A Massachusetts appellate court recently upheld a trial court’s order granting two daughters millions of dollars in damages as compensation for enduring years of sexual abuse from their father. According to the complaint, the defendants suffered repeated incidents of sexual abuse. During trial on the matter, both plaintiffs provided thorough testimony describing the nature, scope, and extent of the sexual abuse. They also testified regarding the physical and mental harm that they suffered and continued to suffer as a result of the assaults. One of the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs testified regarding the emotional injuries specifically, stating that as a result of the repeated sexual abuse, both daughters experienced anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and issues engaging in sexual relationships.
The defendant father refrained from testifying, instead relying on his counsel’s cross-examination of the witnesses for the plaintiffs and the witnesses themselves. At the close of evidence, the jury deliberated and returned a verdict awarding each of the plaintiffs $1.5 million for the assaults and an additional $3.5 million for their respective claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).
According to the seminal case of Agis v. Howard, to recover damages on a claim for IIED, the plaintiff must show four factors:
- That the defendant intended to cause the plaintiff emotional distress, or that he or she knew or should have known that his or her conduct was likely to result in emotional distress;
- That the conduct was outrageous, extreme, and beyond all possible bounds of decency and is considered utterly intolerable in the community;
- That the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s emotional distress; and
- That the emotional distress that the plaintiff suffered was so severe and of such a nature that no reasonable person would be expected to endure it.
After the jury returned its verdict, the defendant filed a motion seeking a new trial or in the alternative asking the court to reduce the jury’s compensation award. The trial judge denied both motions, and the defendant appealed.
On appeal, the defendant alleged that the trial court erred when it failed to instruct the jury to ignore an emotional outburst from one of the spectators who attended the trial in the observation gallery. The spectator reportedly engaged stood up, made a loud proclamation, and stormed out of the courtroom during the plaintiffs’ opening statement. The trial court judge recalled seeing a spectator stand up and leave but did not recall hearing any verbal outburst. The appellate court concluded that based on the trial court’s recollection of the incident and observation of the jury at the time of the alleged outburst, the lower court judge did not err in refusing to instruct the jury about the incident. Also, the appellate court concluded that the jury’s award was appropriate and that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s request for a remittitur.
If you have suffered sexual abuse, you may be entitled to compensatory damages in a civil action. At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, we provide dedicated, compassionate, and experienced legal counsel to victims of accidents and misconduct throughout Massachusetts. We offer a free consultation to help you explore the legal remedies that may be available to you, so call us at 1-800-446-4485 or contact us online to schedule your appointment now.