Articles Posted in Sexual Abuse

As longtime Palm Beach sexual abuse lawyers advocating for Florida victims and survivors in civil litigation, it’s sadly no surprise when prominent businesses, organizations, government agencies, or institutions fail in their duty to protect those most vulnerable to sexual predators. Time and again, these entities allow basic safety protocols, oversight, security, and reporting take a back seat to profits and prestige. The result is victims suffer in silence while predators carry on – sometimes entirely unfettered.Florida sexual abuse lawyer

This is why when survivors of sexual abuse within an organization (school, workplace, sports club, church, etc.) come forward, civil case attorneys prioritize a deep dive into that organization’s history, policies, practices, and protections. Rarely are such occurrences isolated.

We saw yet another example of this recently with the three Florida sexual abuse lawsuits filed by former youth athletes against several cheerleading organizations, gyms, and investors. The plaintiffs were competitive cheerleaders, coached at the same Daytona Beach gym by the same man, who is now facing felony sexual abuse charges. But as noted in the complaints, the blame doesn’t rest solely on the coach. Rather, plaintiffs say, fault also lies with business and athletic organizations that established operational models with lax oversight policies that allowed young athletes to be taken advantage of by sexual predators.

What’s more: This is far from the first time some of these cheer organization defendants have been named in civil sexual abuse lawsuits for similar lapses in other states.

Report: Cheer Coaches Across the Country Kept Working Despite Sex Abuse Allegations

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When it comes to prisoners and guards in Florida correctional institutions, there is no such thing as consensual sex. The power dynamics effectively make it impossible for prisoners to consent to any sexual activity.Florida sexual abuse lawyer

If a corrections employee and a prisoner do engage in a sexual relationship, it is automatically a crime – under both state and federal law.

Specifically, F.S. 944.35 says that sexual misconduct is any sex act between a corrections employee that doesn’t rise to the level of sexual battery (or rape, which would be a higher level felony). Sexual misconduct is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If fellow prison employees know or suspect sexual misconduct between an inmate and employee and don’t immediately report it, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Federally, U.S.C. 2241, 2243, and 2244 criminalizes all sexual relations and sexual contact between prison staff and inmates. Existing law states prison staff-prisoner sexual relations is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison, unless the staffer uses threats or overt force.

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General is on record as saying that penalties for inmate-prison staff sexual encounters don’t serve as an efficient deterrent, and have called for stricter punishments. (It’s well-established that most state laws – including Florida – are more severe, making unforced sexual relations between corrections workers and inmates a felony.)

Civil Litigation for Prisoner-Inmate Sexual Misconduct

In any case, it’s worth pointing out that criminal penalties aren’t the only legal action worth exploring in prison sexual misconduct cases. As our South Florida sexual abuse lawyers can explain, civil litigation is another legal avenue impacted prisoners can pursue. Continue reading

When it comes to South Florida sexual abuse lawsuits against businesses, schools, churches, employers, and other institutions, victim-blaming unfortunately is not uncommon.South Florida sex abuse lawsuit

Our Palm Beach sexual abuse lawyers recognize that these attitudes stem largely from the greater societal problem known as “rape culture.” This is a term used to describe an environment in which sexual violence and harassment are normalized and excused by popular culture, influential people, and powerful institutions. Rape culture gets perpetuated through bodily objectification, misogynistic language, glamorization of sexual violence, and a general disregard for the rights and safety of those vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault. It’s the reason a lot of victims aren’t initially believed. It undeniably contributes to large percentage of sexual abuse and assault incidents going unreported.

When a person decides to pursue a civil lawsuit against an entity that failed to protect them from sexual abuse or assault, it’s not uncommon to see these harmful cultural undercurrents take center stage. We’ve seen far too many examples of this in Florida sexual assault lawsuits.

In 2017, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that despite denials, the Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County school districts had all blamed schoolchildren for their own sexual abuse in responding to sexual abuse litigation. In Palm Beach, the school district had argued in five separate sexual abuse cases – some involving kids as young as 6 – that the students’ own roles in the abuse should limit how much money the school district should pay them. In one case involving several fourth-graders molested by a teacher, school district attorneys argued the kids were not only careless and negligent, but “old enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions.” In other cases – some involving kids with emotional behavior disabilities – school districts arguing for lower financial damage awards said students were “culpable.”

This sort of defense tactic in a civil case is what is known as comparative negligence. As outlined in F.S. 768.81, it’s the idea that if someone bears a degree of responsibility for their own injury or harm, their damage award should be proportionately reduced. Of course, it’s one thing to argue a person hurt in a car accident somehow contributed to the cause of the crash. It’s quite another to argue that children are somehow responsible to any extent for the sexual abuse they suffer. Yet the defense sometimes still gets raised in these cases.

We may also see victim-blaming in workplace sexual assault or sexual harassment cases in the form of retaliation. Continue reading

Do rideshare companies do enough to protect drivers and passengers from sexual assault in Florida and beyond? According to hundreds of pending civil sexual assault lawsuits around the country against companies like Lyft and Uber, the answer is a resounding: No. South Florida sexual assault lawyer

Despite the fact that the entire business model of rideshare companies centers on the idea that they provide a safe way home, more than a few users say the experience ends up being anything but safe.

If you are attacked or have been sexual assaulted as a passenger in a South Florida rideshare, our dedicated West Palm Beach sexual assault attorneys can help you identify your legal options and navigate your next steps. Part of what complicates these claims are that the drivers are not considered “employees” but rather “independent contractors.” This designation gives companies some room to deny vicarious liability for the negligent or criminal actions perpetuated by drivers for the app. However, it doesn’t mean there’s no chance they’ll have to answer for safety deficits that result in harm.

We recognize that going up against a large company like Uber or Lyft can seem daunting. But with an experienced civil trial lawyer, civil litigation can be a powerful tool for pursuing accountability as well as meaningful policy changes that will hopefully make everyone safer.

Pending Sexual Assault Cases Against Rideshare Companies

At least 17 sexual assault lawsuits involving drivers and passengers alike are pending against Lyft, according to NPR. Claimants say they were harassed, assaulted, and battered. Yet when they reported the incidents to the rideshare company, the response was lackluster. Rideshare reps reportedly apologized for what happened, gave complainants refunds, and promised to suspend the accounts of the drivers or passengers involved. Some drivers who reported being sexually assaulted by passengers said the company offered them a few hundred dollars. However, there was no follow-up afterward.

Lawyers representing the victims say longtime rideshare company practice is to withhold user information – even in the event of a reported crime – unless there is a court order specifically compelling it. Plaintiff attorneys say this significantly delays or stymies criminal investigations and requests for civil orders of protection. They insist rideshares should go the extra mile to not only share user information to authorities when a sexual assault is reported, but also install cameras or audio recorders in vehicles that use the app. Such recordings could be used as evidence in a criminal case, but beyond that, hopefully would serve as a strong deterrent. Continue reading

The sudden trauma of a South Florida cruise ship sexual assault can leave survivors feeling stunned, shaken, and unsure of their next steps.Florida cruise ship sexual assault lawyer

As longtime Palm Beach sexual abuse assault attorneys, we are committed to helping survivors and their families pick up the pieces and pursue justice and accountability through civil litigation. This is separate from any criminal investigation or case that may be ongoing. The purpose of civil litigation in these cases is typically to hold accountable any parties who failed in their duty to protect the victim.

A number of recent high-profile cruise ship sexual assault cases have highlighted both the seriousness and unfortunate prevalence of these incidents.

Recently, a federal jury in South Florida awarded a sexual assault survivor more than $10 million after her rape by a Carnival Cruise Line crew member. Although the jury did not find the cruise line was negligent, maritime law allows defendant cruise lines in civil sexual assault cases involving employees to be held strictly liable. Strict liability does not require proof of negligence by a defendant. (This is different than state-level civil sexual assault cases, which typically require proof that the company/defendant failed in some duty of care owed to the plaintiff. This usually involves a failure to maintain a safe premises, negligent hiring/background checks, or inadequate supervision.)

The incident that recently led to the $10 million verdict occurred in 2018 and involved a crew member. He claimed the encounter was consensual, but was fired for violating the cruise line’s policy forbidding fraternization with patrons. The FBI did not pursue criminal charges against him, but the federal jury in the civil case found that he did sexually assault her.

Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Statistics

USA Today recently reported that, per U.S. Department of Transportation figures, more than 100 allegations of cruise ship sexual assaults involving ships embarking/disembarking in the U.S. were reported in 2019. The year before, there were 82. New figures haven’t been posted since pandemic-related shutdowns stymied the industry, which is just now starting to regain steam.

Rape crises experts say that factors impacting the high numbers of cruise ship sexual assaults include an abundance of alcohol, close quarters, and a lack of independent law enforcement. Of course, as our Palm Beach civil trial lawyers can explain, cruise ships do have security. However, these are not public law enforcement agencies. They’re private companies hired by the cruise ships.

Survivors of Florida Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Should Seek Immediate Legal Counsel

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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

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