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SPLF Employment Blog

Job Applicant Awarded $21.4 Million After Sexual Assault by Business Owner

Some employees and job applicants are treated so poorly that they are literally the victims of crime. One Texas case illustrates that fact as well as the many complications that can get in the way of obtaining justice, especially in a crime as heinous as sexual assault.

pizzaIn 2011, a young female and recent high school graduate applying for a summer job was sexually assaulted by the owner of a pizza restaurant in Addison, Texas. She was awarded a $21.4 million judgment following a four-day trial heard in Dallas, according to General Counsel News, on legal claims based on the attack. The judgment was awarded against both Ajredin “Danny” Deari and the restaurant.

The evidence in the case established several facts:

  • Deari, the owner of co-defendant Pastazios Pizza, served the plaintiff (who remained anonymous due to the nature of the case), 18 years old at the time, beer and whiskey at his restaurant under the pretext of a job interview.
  • The plaintiff passed out and awoke in a hotel room, where Deari was sexually assaulting her. Deari then fled the scene.
  • A later physical exam determined that Deari infected her with herpes during the assault.

Deari pled no contest to criminal charges of causing “serious bodily injury to another . . . by transferring a sexually transmittable disease, to wit: herpes.” The next day, he filed for personal and business bankruptcy protection. The restaurant continues to operate under Chapter 11 status.

The plaintiff’s attorney petitioned the judge in the civil case to keep the case moving forward despite the bankruptcy filing, which normally results in cases being stalled until an outcome in bankruptcy court, according to the Dallas Morning News. The attorney also complained that Deari’s criminal case was postponed multiple times.

The aggravated assault/serious bodily injury charge he faced is a second-degree felony, as was the sexual assault charge, but adding insult to plaintiff’s injuries is that Deari was sentenced only to six years’ probation and a $2,000 fine. He will not serve jail time or register as a sexual offender.

There are other defendants in the civil case including several businesses, such as Hyatt Hotels, the management company of the hotel where the assault took place, and the other co-owner of the restaurant who picked up Deari at the hotel.

Criminal Law

handcuffsThe fact that Deari pled guilty to at least one criminal charge made this an easier case for the plaintiff because of a legal doctrine called “collateral estoppel,” also called “issue preclusion.” It provides that parties to a lawsuit are bound by any decision of fact or law that was fully and fairly litigated on a previous occasion and necessary to that court’s judgment.

The issue of liability is not litigated again in civil court after the defendant is found guilty in criminal court. In this case, Deari pled guilty to a crime. Because criminal cases carry a higher burden of proof—beyond a reasonable doubt—than civil cases, the plaintiff need not prove it occurred in a later civil lawsuit for money damages.

For a plaintiff to take advantage of collateral estoppel, he or she must establish three things:

  1. the plaintiff is the victim of the prosecuted crime,
  2. the defendant was convicted in a criminal proceeding, and
  3. the civil suit is based on the same essential allegations as the criminal offense.

In some cases, the criminal conviction of a perpetrator is considered proof of some or all of that perpetrator’s legal liability in a civil action brought by the victim, so those facts do not have to be proven again. Because the burden of proof is lower in civil actions than in criminal proceedings (a “more likely than not” standard compared to “beyond a reasonable doubt”), a court can use the criminal conviction as proof of liability in a later civil action, which could substantially simplify and shorten the litigation of the civil case.

Bankruptcy Law

pocketBankruptcy law allows individuals to discharge certain debts under certain circumstances. Not all debts can be avoided through bankruptcy, and some debts are given a higher priority than others when it comes to limited funds and assets being used to pay for debts.

If Deari were ordered to pay restitution as part of his plea agreement, that would not be dischargeable through bankruptcy. A debt due to a judgment in a civil lawsuit may or may not be dischargeable. In this case, Deari’s and the restaurant’s attorneys may try to get the judgment discharged, but the plaintiff’s attorneys can argue that it should not be because it was the result of an injury caused by a willful or malicious act.

As is often the case when there are eye-popping verdicts against defendants, unless Deari has substantial assets, the plaintiff will likely never see anything close to $21.4 million from him or his pizza business. If they’re persistent, her attorneys may be able to extract assets from him and levy on part of his income for years to come. One reason that lawsuits list multiple defendants in cases (including this one) is to increase the chances of obtaining as much of a damages award as possible, especially listing a defendant with “deep pockets” like Hyatt Hotels, which managed the hotel where the assault took place.

Summing It Up

If you’re the victim of a crimem you may have a basis for a civil lawsuit to obtain compensation for damages that you’ve suffered as a result, regardless of whether the perpetrator is your employer.

  • Report the crime as soon as possible.
  • Cooperate fully with the criminal investigation.
  • Obtain legal counsel to help you through the investigation and protect your interests and legal rights to pursue a civil action.
  • Be aware that these cases may be complex legally, so you need an experienced attorney to help you through the process.

If you’re the victim of a crime at work perpetrated by a member of management, a co-worker, a customer, or a contractor, contact our office so we can talk about what happened, what law enforcement could do, and how your legal rights can be protected.

 

 

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