Articles Posted in Sexual Abuse

A survivor of a brutal rape and beating recently prevailed in her South Florida sexual assault lawsuit against the Miami hotel where the attack occurred and its security company, settling for $16 million for their failure to protect her.Florida hotel sexual assault lawyer

According to Local 10 News, 67-year-old woman, a tourist who was staying at the hotel with her husband last July, was beaten, strangled, choked, and forced to perform oral sex on her 22-year-old attacker in a vicious assault that took place in an open hallway and elevator. (The husband, also, was apparently beaten, pushed to the ground, and bitten by the man.) Despite her repeated screams and cries, none of the hotel staffers intervened. The man then reportedly tried to rape the woman, but was finally stopped when Miami-Dade police officers arrived on scene and arrested him. The attack left the victim with life-threatening injuries, including brain bleeding, collapsed lungs, broken ribs, and traumatic brain injury. After she was discovered, she was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent an 8-hour surgery to save her life.

The alleged attacker is still facing charges of sexual battery, felony battery, assault, and kidnapping.

As our South Florida sexual assault lawyers understand, the investigation into the liability of both the hotel and the security company revealed fairly damning evidence. The beating and sexual assault reportedly took place in the middle of an open hallway for 10 full minutes.

Although the hotel and security company deny any wrongdoing, the latter agreed to settle her claims for $5 million and the former for $11 million, respectively. In the aftermath of the incident, both the hotel and the security company have made improvements to security policy and procedure.

How Can a Hotel or Other Third Parties be Liable for Rape?

It’s not clear from news reports whether the attacker was a guest at the hotel, an employee, or a trespasser. There likely is no evidence that the third-party defendants (hotel and security company) had any prior knowledge of the defendant’s intent or intentionally helped him to carry out his alleged crimes. So how is that they can be held legally responsible? Continue reading

Although many Florida sex abuse lawsuits against churches involve molestation, assault, or abuse of minors, there may be a cause of action in the event of sexual misconduct involving clergy and an adult congregant as well.South Florida sex abuse lawyer

Such cases may be brought because the courts have held that the First Amendment (which protects freedom of religion) does not protect churches from liability for harm to a third party that arises from alleged sexual misconduct by clergy members. The state recognizes that religious institutions and clergy may owe a fiduciary duty to attendees. That includes a duty to adult parishioners as well as minors. A fiduciary duty can arise from personal, moral, or social relations, and liability is not solely dependent on an agreement or contractual relationship. For example, the Florida Supreme Court has held that churches that promote their clergy as qualified marriage counselors owe a fiduciary duty to “counselees” – even if most parishioners don’t actually receive direct counseling from the clergy.

Churches can be liable for sexual misconduct involving clergy and adult parishioners when this fiduciary duty is violated.

The Florida Supreme Court majority opinion wrote in the 2002 case of Malicki, et al v. Doe, “The First Amendment cannot be used at the initial pleading stage to shut the courthouse door to a plaintiff’s claims, which are founded on a religious institution’s alleged negligence arising from the institution’s failure to prevent harm resulting from one of its clergy who sexually assaults and batters a minor or adult parishioner.” A ruling to the contrary, the justices reasoned, would immunize church defendants in such a way that it would place religious institutions in a preferred position over secular institutions – something that would be “both foreign and hostile” to the 1st Amendment. Continue reading

A bombshell 300-page report detailing two decades of sex abuse and systematic cover-ups within Southern Baptist churches across the country has rocked the faith community. Revelations are that church leadership not only mishandled and suppressed abuse claims, but that they belittled victims and their families and resisted reforms at every turn. Palm Beach sex abuse lawyer

Southern Baptists are the largest national denomination of Protestants in the U.S. The third-party investigation was commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at the insistence of church members, was made public in late May. (The SBC is not its own church, but rather a network of churches.)

As our Palm Beach sex abuse lawyers can explain, this is far from the first inkling the public has had that such problems were legion. Three years ago, reporters from two Texas newspapers collaborated on an investigation into church sex abuse of children and other vulnerable parishioners. Their report, Abuse of Faith, revealed that some 400 Southern Baptist leaders – top ministers, youth pastors, etc. – had been convicted or pleaded guilty to sex crimes against more than 700 victims over the last 20 years. Top leadership commented at the time that it was “an apocalypse,” far worse and systemic than they imagined it could be.

Immediate response to the latest report from ultraconservative branches of the denomination were relatively quiet. A few regional leaders released brief statements indicating they were “grieving,” but also that they disagreed with certain aspects of the findings. A few individual pastors offered public comment condemning both the abuse and the church’s inaction, calling it all “heartbreaking” and “horrifying.” The current SBC president issued a statement saying there were not adequate words to express his sorrow at the things the report revealed, and vowed there would be changes.

Cases of Sex Abuse Brought to Light

Among the cases of “credible” reports of sexual abuse brought to light: Continue reading

One of 10 survivors of reported South Florida sexual abuse involving a former Miami teacher has been awarded $6 million in a federal civil lawsuit against the school district. The teacher, who taught English and Creative Writing for 14 years in Miami-Dade, is also still awaiting a criminal trial, which has been repeatedly delayed due to the pandemic. South Florida sexual abuse attorney

The plaintiff, now an adult, was a minor high school student when she was reportedly sexually assaulted in 2016. She was one many students the teacher allegedly exploited in his years as a Florida educator, using poetry and prose journal prompts to prey on and groom students into relationships. For her, the plaintiff said each incident occurred in the classroom.

The teacher’s arrest for the offenses against this survivor happened eight years after another student reported sexual misconduct by the same teacher with multiple students at a different high school in the same school district. Additionally, a school resource officer reportedly saw the teacher engaging with/leaning over students in a “very personal” and “intimate” fashion – but never reported the suspicious behavior, according to The Miami Herald.

After the earlier incidents, the teacher was moved to a different school, but not fired or even reported to authorities. According to the lawsuit, the school board and administrators failed to conduct an adequate, thorough, and reasonable investigations into prior reports of alleged abuse. Further, when the school did launch an investigation, it reportedly failed to protect female students in his classes as he continued to teach. Jurors agreed, awarding the plaintiff survivor $3 million in prior damages and $3 million in future damages.

The details of this case are deeply disturbing, especially because they appear to be part of a bigger problem. In recent years, there have been numerous South Florida sexual abuse allegations against teachers – and school districts failing to protect students. Given that sexual abuse is a widely under-reported crime to begin with, the fact of so many high-profile cases is all the more troubling.

Among recent cases: Continue reading

The Hyatt Hotel corporation is facing a federal lawsuit in Florida for the alleged sexual assault of a minor at one of its resorts in the Bahamas.

As our West Palm Beach sexual assault attorneys can explain, thousands of people are attacked at hotels, motels, casinos, and resorts in the U.S. every year. Survivors of sexual violence have the right to pursue justice in criminal courts, but they can also file claims for monetary damages in civil court. Civil claims aren’t always (or even mostly) filed against the attacker. More often than not, Florida civil sexual assault claims target businesses or organizations that failed in their duty to protect the victim.Hotel sexual assault South Florida

This case against the Hyatt isn’t even all that unique. Our legal team is aware of a similar civil claim filed against the same hotel chain in an Illinois federal court following a sexual assault in Turkey. The hotel tried to get that claim tossed, arguing Illinois was an inconvenient forum to resolve the matter. However, the trial and appellate courts declined requests to remove the claim for jurisdictional reasons, and the matter proceeded.

In the more recent matter, V.H. v. Hyatt Hotels Corporation, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, the plaintiff is the father of a minor who was staying at the hotel as a guest with her family. According to court records, the victim briefly left her hotel room in the early morning hours to call a friend. She left barefoot, fully anticipating returning to her room within a few minutes. However, she was approached by a 58-year-old Bahamian local, who struck up a conversation and then lured her to a closed poolside cabana. There, according to the complaint, he overpowered and raped her.

By this time, her father had already gone looking for his daughter. He was able to locate her using the pinpoint technology on her cell phone. He entered the cabana to find the sexual assault in progress. The father ripped the attacker off his daughter, who was disheveled, curled up on the ground, and crying. The rape was immediately reported to authorities, and the attacker was arrested and charged with statutory rape. He is awaiting trial in the Bahamas, set for May.

According to the civil complaint, the attacker should never have been at the resort at that hour to begin with. The rape occurred at a time when restaurants and bars were closed. The casinos were still open, but the attacker, under Bahamian law, was not allowed to gamble. Further, he was also known to be a small-time drug dealer. There was no legitimate reason, the plaintiff argued, for the assailant to be on the property when he was.

Plaintiffs allege the assailant was likely there for the purpose of targeting a young victim. The hotel chain knew or should have known he may have nefarious motives, plaintiffs allege. The company advertises itself to families as a purveyor of fun, safe family vacations. And yet, when this incident occurred, there were no security personnel present to prevent or intervene in the rape of a minor on its property. Plaintiffs allege the hotel chain failed to take both reasonable and necessary precautions to protect guests, causing this child to suffer an event that was painful, traumatizing, and permanently life-altering. Continue reading

Massage parlors are places with dark rooms, closed doors, and skin-to-skin contact with virtual strangers. Industry ethics codes and state laws are supposed to protect both clients and employees from predatory behavior, but allegations of Florida sexual abuse during massages or at massage parlors have been prevalent in recent years. In addition to busts for human trafficking and prostitution at some operations, there have been numerous civil lawsuits filed against spa owners.West Palm Beach sexual assault

A few years ago, Buzzfeed reported there were dozens of complaints in Florida, California, and other states stemming from alleged sexual assaults at the Massage Envy chain, which has more than 1,200 locations across the country. As our West Palm Beach sexual abuse lawyers can explain, journalists uncovered more than 180 individuals who had filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and/or state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company. Many of those claims were allegedly mishandled by the chain. In some cases, managers reportedly dismissed claims for lack of merit based on alleged victims’ refusals to return to the site of the alleged assaults to provide a statement.

In 2018, nearly a dozen female customers in Palm Beach County accused Massage Envy of sexual assault at nine separate Florida locations. Most of those cases involved allegations that massage therapists had touched women in their private areas without consent. Plaintiffs alleged that the company failed to protect clients in a vulnerable setting by systematically and intentionally concealing a “rampant problem” of massage therapists accused of sexually assaulting customers. The company allegedly had an internal policy of urging staff to avoid calling police in cases of reported sexual assault – a practice that purportedly protected both the brand and profit of the company, not the safety and well-being of customers who had no reason to suspect they may be in danger. The women alleged they sought treatment for conditions like painful spinal injuries, and instead were sexually assaulted and exploited.

The company denied liability, but said it was partnering with an outside agency to review policies, improve training, and ensure sexual assault allegations were properly reported to local law enforcement. Continue reading

Sexual abuse in Florida schools can be the basis for both criminal charges and civil claims. A recent example involves a Naples elementary school teacher convicted last month of more than 20 counts of child molestation (sexual assault of a child under 12). He’s now serving a 25-year prison term.South Florida sexual abuse lawyer

Based on the number of survivors (20), this was the second-largest case of sexual abuse by an educator in Florida since 2014. Last year, parents filed lawsuits accusing the Collier County School District of mishandling the sexual abuse allegations and failing to protect their children from years of molestation despite blaring red flags – including a specific allegation from a student to half a dozen employees three months before the offender was removed from school.

The district told The Naples Daily News that as soon as it learned of the allegations, the teacher was expelled from campus and later fired by the school board upon his arrest. The police say the teacher sexually abused young students from the day he started work until the day he was removed from the school – in the classroom, on school grounds, in the soccer field, in his car, and in the homes of children he tutored.

Sworn statements made to law enforcement indicate that six school employees – including teachers, administrators, and a school recess monitor – were informed of allegations made by a girl three months prior to the teacher’s removal from the school. The girl told the recess monitor that the teacher had sexually abused her friend. That information was then passed on to the five other employees. Yet it appears nothing was done, the NDN reported. In that three-month window, the police say, the teacher continued to abuse students – and even started molesting three more. Yet in response to a lawsuit filed by one of the survivor’s parents, the school insists it could not have known about the teacher’s “propensities” prior to the date of his arrest. Continue reading

When negotiating Florida sexual abuse settlements, one must exercise great care and use precise language. Failure to do so may unintentionally absolve other responsible parties of future accountability. West Palm Beach sexual abuse attorneys

Recently, defense attorneys for Britain’s Prince Andrew, attempting to get a federal civil sexual abuse lawsuit tossed in New York, cited a prior settlement agreement signed in Florida. The prior settlement agreement in question was signed by alleged sexual assault victim, Virginia Giuffre (who has agreed to make her identity public) Andrew’s one-time associate, Jeffrey Epstein. The latter was a jet-setting financier with many high-profile friends who died in 2019 while awaiting a criminal trial for decades of alleged sex trafficking of minors – including Giuffre.

At issue in the pending civil litigation of Giuffre v. Prince Andrew is a $500,000 Florida sexual abuse settlement agreement Giuffre and Epstein signed in 2009. The question is whether it released others – like Andrew – whose purported sexual encounters with underage girls were allegedly arranged and/or facilitated by Epstein.

The prince has vehemently denied Giuffre’s allegations that he sexually abused her when she was a minor. Regardless, his attorneys argue that he’s shielded from civil litigation by that 13-year-old settlement agreement because it contained a provision indicating Giuffre would not bring any future claims against other “potential defendants.” Continue reading

There are an estimated 39 million survivors of child sexual assault in the U.S. today. Of those, nearly one-third never tell a soul what happened to them. For many others, the truth isn’t revealed until many years later, often when they are adults who more fully understand what was done to them. Unfortunately, not all of our laws have caught up with this reality.

In Florida, survivors of sexual assault typically have a 4-year window in which to pursue a civil claim against the institutions whose negligence allowed the abuse to occur. After four years, the statute of limitations time-bars the claim. If the abuse was ongoing, the statute of limitations clock wouldn’t start until the last instance of abuse. There are a few exceptions, though, which is why it’s important if you’ve been sexually molested, abused, or assaulted – even if it was many years ago – that you discuss your legal options with an attorney.Palm Beach sexual assault lawyer

(Note that the statute of limitations in criminal sexual assault cases is longer: Within 7 years after the victim turns 18; within 4 years of the time a victim discovers the link between a related injury and the abuse; within 4 years of the time a victim abandons/stops depending on the abuser. In 2020, lawmakers passed “Donna’s Law,” which removes the statute of limitations for criminally prosecuting acts of sexual battery against children under 18. However, the law isn’t retroactive, and is only applicable to crimes committed on or after July 1, 2020.) 

The strict nature of the statute of limitations on civil sexual assault cases was underscored in a case before the Florida Supreme Court last year, R.R. v. New Life Community Church of CMA. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations time-barred two women from pursuing a sexual assault civil lawsuit against a Florida church and other defendants over allegations the women were sexually abused as children by a church employee.

The trial and appellate courts had already ruled against the two plaintiffs, who reported they were molested as young children by the church worker between 1996 and 2005. The worker, currently in prison on unrelated child porn charges, isn’t a party to the case. Instead, the defendants include the church, the man’s parents (also church employees) and others. One of the women said she was molested between the ages of 4 and 11. Her attorney would later say she didn’t recognize abuse had occurred because she thought she was being punished for bad behavior. She therefore didn’t tell her parents until after she was an adult. The other woman alleged she was molested once when she was 4. She told her parents about it shortly after it happened.

Both the trial court and the 5th District Court of Appeal held that the statute of limitations on their claims had already passed. However, the Florida Supreme Court took up the matter because, as our Palm Beach sexual abuse attorneys can explain, other appellate courts ruling on similar cases had reached different conclusions. Specifically, the 3rd and 4th District Courts of Appeal had held that civil sexual abuse lawsuits filed by those who were minors at the time of the abuse don’t accrue until the minor reaches the age of majority OR “until a proper representative knew or should have known of the minor’s claims.” Continue reading

Disney Cruise Lines is facing a Florida sexual assault lawsuit after the family of a 3-year-old girl alleges she was targeted by another child in the ship’s day care. The plaintiffs say the day care was poorly-staffed with employees who weren’t properly trained. The company denies the allegations and expressed their intent to the Orlando Sentinel to vigorously defend against them in court.South Florida sexual assault lawyer

As our West Palm Beach sexual assault lawyers can explain, cruise ship sexual assaults have been an ongoing issue that has rightly garnered much media scrutiny the last several years. Civil litigation in these cases argue premises liability and general negligence, though there are special considerations because of the fact it happened at sea.

Claimants in the most recent case are arguing children aboard the ship’s daycare should have been separated according to age groups to protect the younger kids. The 3-year-old, they say, should have been grouped with infants, toddlers, and other kids under 5. Staffers, they say, should have been better trained about how to prevent and react to improper touching of a child.

Cruise Ship Sexual Assaults

Cruise ships are often referred to as “floating cities,” with movie theaters, restaurants, private quarters – and crime. U.S. government data shows that sexual assaults are the most commonly reported crimes on cruise ships. It’s been revealed also that many victims of sexual assault aboard cruise ships are minors. One report by Congress in 2013 indicated one-third of sexual assaults on cruise ships involve a victim under the age of 18. Continue reading

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