The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently upheld a multi-million dollar judgment in favor of two daughters sexually abused by their father continuously for several years.
Defendant William Kelley sexually molested and abused his two daughters, identified in court fillings as B.K. and W.K., on myriad occasions. He allegedly molested B.K. 3-5 times per week when she was between the ages of 12 and 15, and he continued to molest her on occasion when she was 16 and 17. Kelley would enter B.K.’s room almost nightly, undress, get into her bed, and fondle her. He encouraged her to masturbate and sleep in the nude, and he explained to her how to give a hand job.
Similarly, Kelley allegedly began molesting W.K. when she was 12 and continued to do so through her middle and high school years. The abuse occurred almost every night unless the defendant was out. He would touch, caress, and grope W.K.’s breasts. He told the girl how to give oral sex and showed her his erect penis multiple times. He once masturbated while molesting her.
At trial, both daughters testified about the impact, devastation, and emotional distress caused by the abuse. The plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Gutheil, testified that both daughters suffered from emotional injuries caused by the defendant’s sexual abuse. He opined that this sexual abuse caused depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and problems with sexual relationships.
Kelley did not testify or offer any evidence at trial. He relied only on the cross-examination of the plaintiffs and their witnesses. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $1.5 million each on their claims for assault and battery and $3.5 million each on their claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Kelley sought to poll the jury to determine whether the damages awards on the counts were duplicative, but the judge denied the request. Kelley filed a motion for a new trial or for remittitur, arguing that the damages awarded were both excessive and not supported by the evidence. The judge denied the motion without a hearing.
On appeal, Kelley argued that the trial court’s failure to ask the jury about an emotional outburst by a spectator during the plaintiffs’ opening statement constituted prejudicial error and required the allowance of his motion for a mistrial or subsequent motion for a new trial. The appeals court disagreed.
Neither the attorneys nor the judges, the appeals court reasoned, noticed any disruption during the trial. On the next day, however, defense counsel moved for a mistrial because a spectator allegedly had stood up during the plaintiffs’ opening statement, said “Jesus,” and “stormed out of the courtroom.” The judge recounted that he saw an individual stand up and leave, but he did not see or hear anything inappropriate, and he rejected counsel’s characterization that the individual stormed out. The defendant again raised this argument in his motion for a new trial, which the judge again rejected, finding that “[t]here was no noticeable reaction from the jury when the individual left the courtroom.” The appeals court concluded that given the trial judge’s direct observation that no disruption occurred, his direct observation of the jury at the relevant time, and his finding that nothing inappropriate occurred, there was no basis to conclude that he abused his discretion.
Kelley next argued on appeal that the damages awarded for the separate counts of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress were duplicative and must be vacated. The appeals court disagreed. The court reasoned that the defendant did not object at trial to the special verdict form, which permitted separate damages calculations for each count. Indeed, defense counsel specifically confirmed that the special verdict form was acceptable. Furthermore, the judge specifically instructed the jury that they could not award duplicative damages, and the defendant did not object to this instruction. Moreover, the appeals court found that there was ample evidence adduced at trial to support the damages awarded for the separate and distinct acts committed by the defendant. The evidence showed that the defendant physically molested his daughters on an almost nightly basis, which supported the damages for the assaults and batteries. The evidence further demonstrated that the defendant routinely and repeatedly engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct toward his daughters, apart from the physical assaults, which supported damages for separate conduct and injuries sustained from the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Thus, the appeals court upheld the damages awards.
Kelley next argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the trial judge’s instructions did not adequately convey that damages should not be based on sympathy or an attempt to punish the defendant. The appeals court found this argument also lacked merit. The trial court specifically explained that “the purpose is not to reward the plaintiff and not to punish the defendant.” The court instructed, at the defendant’s request, that “[t]here are no punitive damages in this case.” The judge finally told the jurors that they could “not decide the case based on sympathy for any party or witness.” These instructions were clear and correct, and the defendant did not object to them. The appeals court therefore found no error.
The defendant finally argued that his motion for a directed verdict should have been permitted because there was insufficient evidence to support the necessary element of a physical manifestation of the injury caused by the defendant’s intentional infliction of emotional distress. He asserted that to establish emotional distress damages for the tort of assault and battery, the injured party must provide some objective evidence in support. The appeals court also found this claim lacked merit.
The appeals court explained that while a plaintiff must prove physical harm to establish negligently inflicted emotional distress, there is no such requirement for intentionally inflicted emotional distress. And regarding his contention that there was “no objective evidence” that the distress was severe, the appeals court explained that to the contrary there was abundant evidence concerning the causal connection between the defendant’s sexual abuse and the resulting impact on the plaintiffs, including evidence of the emotional distress, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, nightmares, issues with sexual relations, fear of having children, and fear caused by his conduct.
For these reasons, the appeals court affirmed the judgment.
If you have been injured by another party’s sexual assault, you may face significant medical bills and time off work, and you may need the assistance of a sexual assault lawyer to redress your injuries. At the Neumann Law Group, our personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state of Massachusetts. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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