Article

New York Supreme Court Denies Motion to Set Aside Rape Judgment Against Paul Haggis

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.

Article

ECBAWM Attorneys Earn Recognition from ALM for Jury Verdict in Sexual Assault Case

ECBAWM’s representation of Haleigh Breest in her sexual assault case against director Paul Haggis earned attorneys Zoe Salzman, Ilann M. Maazel, Jonathan Abady, Sara Luz Estela, and Noel León and paralegal Sophia Attie “Shout Out” honors in American Lawyer Media’s Litigator of the Week column. A jury found Haggis civilly liable for raping Ms. Breest and awarded a total judgment of $10 million.

Article

ECBAWM Wins $10M Jury Verdict in Sexual Assault Case

A jury has found film director Paul Haggis civilly liable for raping Haleigh Breest, a film industry publicist, in 2013. The jury heard testimony from Ms. Breest as well as from four other women who also accused Haggis of sexual misconduct.

Haggis was ordered to pay $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages, for a total verdict of $10 million.

Despite Haggis’ attempt to have the case dismissed in 2018, ECBAWM obtained a landmark ruling enforcing New York City’s Victims of Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act and allowing the case to proceed. The New York State Supreme Court’s decision was upheld on appeal.

ECBAWM also won Ms. Breest’s motion to compel Haggis to provide a sample of his DNA for comparison against a sample left in Ms. Breest’s tights.

“We’re pleased to see justice served for Ms. Breest,” said Ilann M. Maazel and Zoe Salzman who represented Ms. Breest, together with ECBAWM partner Jonathan S. Abady, associates Sara Luz Estela and Noel León, paralegal Sophia Attie, and former-associate Emma Freeman. Dan Cooper served as a trial consultant in the case.

“After the jury heard a mountain of undeniable evidence against Mr. Haggis, they did the right thing and held him accountable for his deplorable behavior. We commend Ms. Breest for the bravery it took to come forward. She stood up for herself and for all women,” said Maazel and Salzman.

Press
“Jury tells filmmaker Haggis to pay $10M total in rape suit,” Associated Press, also published by NBC News, CTV News, CBC News and The Hollywood Reporter
“Paul Haggis Fined Additional $2.5 Million in Punitive Damages in Civil Rape Trial,” Variety
“Oscar-winner Paul Haggis must pay total of $10 million in civil rape case,” Reuters
“‘Crash’ director Paul Haggis must pay $10M to rape accuser Haleigh Breest,” New York Post
“Paul Haggis Rape Trial Jury Tacks on $2.5 Million in Punitive Damages, Bringing Victim’s Award to $10 Million,” The Wrap
“Paul Haggis Ordered to Pay $2.5 Million More in Rape Trial Verdict,” Just Jared
“Filmmaker Paul Haggis ordered to pay total of $10M in rape lawsuit,” Fox News
“Paul Haggis Civil Trial: Jury Awards $2.5M In Punitive Damages; Oscar Winner Says He Will Appeal & “Die Clearing My Name” – Update,” Deadline
“Jury orders Oscar-winner Paul Haggis to pay additional $2.5m in rape lawsuit,” The Guardian
“Church of Scientology is on opposite ends of two celebrity rape cases in L.A., New York,” Los Angeles Times
“‘Broke’ Paul Haggis Must Pay Another $2.5M to Rape Accuser,” Daily Beast
“Jury Says Paul Haggis Raped Woman After Film Premiere,” New York Times
“Paul Haggis, director of ‘Crash,’ ordered to pay $7.5 million in rape case,” Washington Post
“Jury orders Filmmaker Paul Haggis to pay $7.5M in rape suit,” Associated Press, also published in the Wall Street Journal
“Paul Haggis Found Liable On All Counts In New York Rape Civil Trial; Jury Awards Millions In Damages; Oscar Winner Vows To “Fight To Clear My Name,” Deadline
“Paul Haggis Loses New York Civil Rape Case, Liable for $7.5 Million in Damages,” The Wrap
“Paul Haggis Found Liable on All Counts in Civil Rape Trial,” Variety
“Jury finds filmmaker Paul Haggis liable for rape of publicist, awarding her $7.5 million in compensatory damages,” Insider
“Oscar-Winning Writer Hit With $7.5M Rape Verdict In NY,” Law360
“‘Crash’ director Paul Haggis loses rape suit, owes $7.5M in damages to victim Haleigh Breest,” New York Post
“Film-maker Paul Haggis ordered to pay $7.5m to woman accusing him of rape,” The Guardian
“Filmmaker Paul Haggis is ordered to pay at least $7.5 million after being found liable in a sexual assault case involving a former publicist,” CNN
“Paul Haggis: Filmmaker ordered to pay $7.5m in rape suit,” BBC
“Paul Haggis accuser speaks out after director is found liable in $7.5 million rape lawsuit,” Fox News
“Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis found liable for raping woman in 2013, ordered to pay $7.5 million,” The Week
“Director Paul Haggis Found Liable in N.Y. Rape Case, Jury Awards $7.5 Million in Damages,” People
“Judge Orders Paul Haggis To Shell Out $7.5 Million After Director Was Found Liable In Rape Case,” OK! Magazine
“Paul Haggis Loses Civil Rape Case, Ordered to Pay Accuser $7.5 Million,” Rolling Stone
“Oscar-winner Paul Haggis ordered to pay $7.5 mln in civil rape case,” Reuters

Article

ECBAWM Attorneys Earn Recognition from ALM for OSU Case

ECBAWM’s representation of the plaintiffs in Snyder-Hill v. The Ohio State University earned Ilann M. Maazel, Debbie Greenberger, and Marissa Benavides runner-up honors in American Lawyer Media’s Litigator of the Week recognition. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently revived plaintiffs’ claims against OSU stemming from abuse by former OSU physician and athletic team doctor Richard Strauss.

Article

6th Cir Court of Appeals Reinstates Sex Abuse Case Against The Ohio State University

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the lawsuits of over a hundred sexual abuse survivors against Ohio State University and rejected OSU’s statute of limitation defense.

This decision paves the way for plaintiffs to hold OSU accountable in federal court for the school’s decades-long role in facilitating and concealing the sexual abuse of hundreds of students and others by university physician Dr. Richard Strauss.

In its opinion, the Court explained three independent reasons plaintiffs’ claims should be allowed to proceed. “First, the plaintiffs plausibly allege that they did not know and lacked reason to know that Ohio State caused their injury. Second, they plausibly allege that even if they had investigated further, they could not have learned of Ohio State’s conduct. Third, most plaintiffs plausibly allege that they did not know that they were abused. Alone, each of these grounds is sufficient to delay accrual.”

“For years, Ohio State University hid behind a phony statute of limitations defense to avoid accountability for one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in the history of American higher education,” said ECBAWM partner Ilann M. Maazel, who argued the appeal on behalf of over a hundred sexual abuse survivors. “Now OSU can finally be held accountable for enabling and covering up decades of abuse.”

Press
“Court ruling revives unsettled lawsuits vs. Ohio State over sexual abuse by late team doctor Richard Strauss,” Associated Press (also published in ESPN.com, The Public’s Radio)
“Strauss Victims Win Appeal, Able to Move Forward with Case Against Ohio State,” The Lantern
“Lawsuits against Ohio State alleging sex abuse by team doctor can move forward,” NBC News
“Judge allows Strauss survivors’ suit against Ohio State to move forward,” NBC4i.com
“Appeals court rules in favor of Strauss victims, revives lawsuits against Ohio State,” The Columbus Dispatch
“’Milestone’ for victims in the Dr. Richard Strauss court battle,” ABC 6

Article

On Behalf of Survivors, ECBAWM Argues for OSU Sexual Assault Lawsuits to Be Revived

Representing over 100 sexual assault survivors of The Ohio State University’s Dr. Richard Strauss whose lawsuits against OSU were dismissed on statutes of limitations grounds, ECBAM partner Ilann Maazel argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals this week that those lawsuits should be revived.

In his September 2021 ruling dismissing the lawsuits, U.S. District Court Judge (S.D. Ohio) Michael Watson wrote, “Ohio State utterly failed these victims … today, the legal system also fails Plaintiffs.” However, he held that the statute of limitations barred survivor lawsuits that were brought in 2018 and 2019.

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the Sixth Circuit and the case was argued this week. Arguing for the plaintiffs, Maazel pointed out that OSU’s indifference and concealment made it impossible for the complete picture of Strauss’ wrongdoing to be known – or for lawsuits to be filed – during Strauss’ tenure. Maazel also noted that in 2018, OSU itself said it didn’t have answers as to what school leaders knew while Strauss was employed at the school. “And if they didn’t know in 20128, how on earth did students and teenagers know that in the 1980s and 1990s?”

Related
Audio Recording of the Oral Argument

Press
“Men Abused by Ohio State doctor ask court to revive lawsuits,” Associated Press
(also appearing in the Washington PostYahoo, the Albany Times Union, the Seattle Times, and the Houston Chronicle)
“On appeal, lawyers for Strauss victims say OSU shouldn’t profit off ‘deception’,” Ohio Capital Journal
“Lawyers representing Strauss Victims Argue to Overturn the Dismissal of Their Cases,” The Lantern

Article

NYLJ Publishes Adult Survivors Act Article by ECBAWM Partner Ilann Maazel

In “The Adult Survivors Act: A Window of Opportunity,” his most recent column for the New York Law Journal, ECBAWM partner Ilann Maazel outlines the different options sexual assault survivors have for seeking justice in New York Courts. Maazel explains the differences between the Child Victims Act, the Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Prevention Act, and other statutes that can potentially be used to commence legal proceedings. Most pressing, Maazel explains, is the recently passed Adult Survivors Act (ASA), which creates a one-year window for survivors sexually abused in New York State after their 18th birthday the opportunity to file a lawsuit against not only their abuser(s), but against any person or institution whose negligence proximately caused the abuse. Maazel emphasizes that the one-year window begins on November 24, 2022 and will close on November 24, 2023. “Given the many years it took to pass the ASA, it is impossible to know when, if ever, a window of opportunity to bring these claims will occur again.”

Article

ECBAWM Announces an Adult Survivors Act Practice

ECBAWM announces that it is creating an Adult Survivors Act (ASA) practice to represent survivors to pursue sexual abuse cases under New York’s ASA, which became law on May 24, 2022. The new law allows adult victims (people who were 18 or older at the time of the abuse) a one-time opportunity to file civil lawsuits in New York, even if any statutes of limitations have otherwise run out. The one-year window to file claims will open in November 2022 and ECBAWM is actively representing survivors now.

Article

Fourth Circuit Cites Amicus Brief Filed by ECBAWM

In an opinion issued today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit quoted and relied on an amicus brief filed by ECBAWM on behalf of law professors Aziz Huq and Erwin Chemerinsky. The case involves claims brought by a former federal public defender in North Carolina who alleges she was sexually assaulted by members of the public defender’s office. The amicus brief ECBAWM filed argued that the District Court misapplied the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

ECBAWM partners Ilann Maazel and Sam Shapiro authored the brief, which can be found here.

The Fourth Circuit opinion can be read in its entirety here.

Article

ECBAWM Challenges Dismissal of 118 Plaintiffs’ Sex Abuse Claims Against The Ohio State University in the Sixth Circuit, Five Amicus Briefs Filed in Support of Plaintiffs

On February 2, ECBAWM filed opening briefs in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the District Court’s decision to dismiss cases Snyder-Hill v. OSU and Moxley v. OSU as untimely. The two cases, in which ECBAWM represents 118 plaintiff-survivors, bring Title IX claims on behalf of men who survived sexual abuse by OSU physician Richard Strauss from the 1970s to the 1990s and did not know of OSU’s role in facilitating that abuse until a whistleblower came forward in 2018. The briefs argue that the trial court erred in dismissing the claims of these survivors on the basis that they should have brought their claims when the abuse happened, because no plaintiff knew OSU enabled Dr. Strauss’ predation and most did not know that Dr. Strauss’s medical exams were actually sexual abuse.

On February 9, five organizations and scholars filed amicus briefs, or “friend of the court” briefs, in support of the appeals. The organizations and scholars include the National Crime Victim Law Institute, Child USA, Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Women’s Sports Foundation, civil procedure law professors, psychology and psychiatry professors, and the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC). A link to and a short summary of each brief is below:

RAINN, et al:  This brief explains how schools often place their own interests ahead of student-survivors, how they may protect their interests by misleading student-survivors and not providing evidence, and how the District Court erred by not recognizing these obstacles to a sexual abuse survivor’s ability to obtain evidence of a school’s role in enabling abuse.

Psychology Professors: This brief explains some of the reasons why people do not recognize sexual abuse as such at the time it happens, and that people can still suffer serious short-term and long-term harm even when they don’t recognize what they suffered was sexual abuse.

NCVC:  This brief explains the challenges that medical patients face in recognizing sexual abuse in the physician-patient context and described numerous examples of doctors misusing the trust patients place in them to abuse patients.

NWLC, Women’s Sports Foundation, et al:  This brief explains the challenges that student-athletes face in recognizing acts of sexual abuse in the context of college athletics.

Civil Procedure Professors:  This brief explains the history of Title IX and the proper use of the federal discovery rule to analyze when plaintiffs should have discovered their claim.

The Snyder-Hill and Moxley plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM’s Ilann M. MaazelDebra Greenberger, and Marissa Benavides, along with Scott Elliot Smith LPA and Public Justice.

 

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