$5M lawsuit, award in California mansion hanging dismissed

February 7, 2019 GMT

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The family of a woman found hanged in the Southern California mansion of a pharmaceutical executive have reached a settlement that dismisses a lawsuit and wipes out a $5.1 million jury award, an attorney said Wednesday.

The announcement came at the start of a post-trial hearing in the case, which ended last year with a jury finding that Adam Shacknai was liable for the 2011 death of Rebecca Zahau.

The settlement was made with his insurer but other details weren’t disclosed, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“All I’m at liberty to say is the case has been resolved,” the family’s attorney, C. Keith Greer, told the paper outside court.

Shacknai, who had planned to appeal the jury verdict, said the settlement took him by surprise and was made by his insurance company, which will cover the entire settlement cost. He declined to disclose the amount but said it was “a pittance.”

“They were tired of throwing money at it,” he said.

Shacknai has adamantly denied killing Zahau. Outside court, he called the suit a “hoax” and an extortion attempt.

Shacknai reported finding Zahau’s body hanging from a balcony in the Coronado home of his brother, Jonah Shacknai, who was her boyfriend but wasn’t home at the time.

Zahau, 32, was found naked and had rope around her wrists and ankles but San Diego County authorities concluded that she killed herself. A second review in December reached the same conclusion.

Investigators believe Zahau loosely bound her wrists, took one arm out and put both arms behind her back before tightening the noose. Investigators said footprints on the dusty balcony and DNA on a knife, rope and bedposts helped them reach the conclusion.

However, Zahau’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit that alleged Shacknai sexually assaulted the woman, strangled her and staged her death to look like suicide.

Last April, a jury voted 9-3 that Shacknai was liable for the death and awarded $5.1 million to Zahau’s estate. Last month, San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal tentatively denied motions to set aside the verdict and obtain a new trial and expressed skepticism that Zahau killed herself.

“And if she did not, someone else did,” the judge said.

Wednesday’s announcement came at the start of a hearing where Shacknai’s lawyer had intended to argue to change the ruling.