Sweat lodge lawsuits settled for $3M

Associated Press/December 3, 2011

Flagstaff, Arizona -- A self-help author imprisoned for the deaths of three people following a sweat lodge ceremony settled civil lawsuits with the victims' families for more than $3 million, according to court documents.

James Arthur Ray began serving a two-year sentence last month on a trio of negligent homicide convictions. The terms of the settlements reached last year recently were disclosed in court documents filed as exhibits in Ray's criminal case and released Friday at the request of The Associated Press.

The families of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, sued Ray after the October 2009 ceremony near Sedona. The lawsuits accused Ray and his company of negligence, fraud and wrongful death. Others who were injured in the ceremony also were party to the lawsuit.

Brown's parents, who received nearly $860,000, said they were motivated to settle because of the financial burden that Shore's death had placed on his own family. Shore's wife, Alyssa Gillespie, testified in the criminal trial that she saw her massage therapy business crumble after her husband's death. Since Shore took care of all the bills, she said she was uncertain whether their cars were paid off or who provided their cellphone service.

"They had lost their main breadwinner," Brown's mother, Virginia, said Friday.

Shore's family, including his mother, wife and three children, received $1.38 million, and Neuman's family received more than $1 million in the settlement. The money didn't come from Ray himself but from his insurers.

Brad Jardine, who represented Ray in the civil cases, said he could only assume that Ray "felt very deeply that everything possible should be done for those families."

Other cases against Ray are pending.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys tiptoed around specifics of the civil settlements during Ray's criminal trial because those involved were bound by a confidentiality agreement not to discuss it. At one point, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk suggested that by settling the civil case, Ray was admitting fault for the deaths. Ray's attorneys quickly denied that; the settlement includes no admission of guilt.

The victims' families also settled a civil lawsuit against the owners of the retreat center that Ray rented for his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event. The plaintiffs alleged that the conduct of Michael and Amayra Hamilton led to the deaths and injuries of others. The terms of that settlement were confidential, and it included no admission of liability by the Hamiltons.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.