In a victory for plaintiff Haleigh Breest and the principle that perpetrators of sexual assault must be held accountable, the New York State Supreme Court has denied Paul Haggis’ motion to set aside the jury verdict finding him civilly liable for raping Ms. Breest and to overturn the jury’s award of $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Haggis argued that the jury’s verdict should be set aside under CPLR §4404(a) because errors by the Court deprived him of a fair trial and, alternatively, that the jury’s $10 million damages award was excessive.
In denying Haggis’ motion in its entirety, the Court explained that judicial rulings are not prejudicial simply because they involve evidence of plaintiff’s guilt and noted that most of the Haggis’ motion “essentially seeks re-argument of prior issues which were briefed by counsel and determined by the Court.”
“The primary evidence in the case was the testimony of the Plaintiff and Defendant,” wrote the Court. “At the end of the day, the jury credited Plaintiff’s testimony, which described a forced and unwanted sexual assault and rape, and found Defendant’s version of a kittenish and flirtatious Betty Boop character, who bragged about her skills in fellatio, lacking in credibility.”
In upholding both the compensatory and punitive damages awarded by the jury after a 17-day trial, the Court regarded Ms. Breest’s “serious and long-lasting injuries” as well as comparable cases in which similar punitive damages were awarded.
“The #MeToo movement has significantly altered the public conscience on these issues in the years since it began in 2017,” the Court wrote in its opinion. “When most of the cases cited by Defendant were decided, the public, juries, and courts were much more likely to minimize the crime and the impact of rape. Insofar as the jury’s award in Ms. Breest’s case reflects the more enlightened collective views of today, it should not be disregarded or minimized.”
Ms. Breest is represented by ECBAWM partners Ilann M. Maazel and Zoe Salzman, who issued a joint statement. “We are pleased that Judge Kraus upheld the jury’s $10 million verdict in this case. The Judge correctly recognized that the jury’s verdict reflected how the #MeToo movement has significantly altered the public conscience about rape, and has even further validated the testimony of our brave client. This opinion is an important precedent for all survivors of sexual assault.” Jonathan Abady and Sara Luz Estela also represent Ms. Breest.