Liza’s rape case – $16.9M Verdict

 

Todd Kelly – TLC ’09 Grad. 

Thanks to everyone.  Here is what I wrote while waiting on the jury to come back…

“Gabriel made me get on my hands and knees. He did something to my butt. He got my back wet.”

These are the words that Liza spoke in hysterical tones as she reported what one of her “caregivers” had done to her.

The jury received facts on this case, including the following:

Marta, Liza’s mother, told how special she was, and how loving.  She explained how it was great to have “landed in the Netherlands” (thanks Andy).  She talked about how she looked for a safe place to leave her daughter, and how she trusted the people of St. Jude’s to do the right thing.  She talked about how they never even apologized.  (the draft apology letter was handed to her on the stand – she cried and said she had never seen this unsigned document).  Then she showed us what Liza did to report her rape – she came into the well of the courtroom, got on her knees, placed her hands over her head, and leaned forward.  Every person in the jury box stood up to see her.  She told us how she grabbed her rear-end and said that he had put something inside and it hurt.  Then she told how her back was wet.  She cried.

Gabriel had dated Vickie Armstrong (a caseworker at St. Jude’s, and one of the co-defendants), but she broke it off with him because he “did weird things, sexually.”

Gabriel had been seen by residents in one of the homes masturbating and watching pornography on the sofa.

Virginia Onuorah, the owner of the home, was aware (as was Vickie) of the above-events, and failed to fire the sexual deviant.

Virginia asked Gabriel to pick Liza up to bring her to the Day Hab facility on November 11, 2008.

He was very late getting back.

When she came in, she reported the words above to Rhonda Peveto, and asked that she please pick her up in the future, don’t let Gabriel do it.

Rhonda informed a co-worker, Monette Chapa, and the two reported to Virginia and Vickie.

Virginia and Vickie told them not to worry – that they would handle it.

They spoke with Gabriel, who said that all he did was touch her butt while helping her onto the van.

They took Liza out for candy and food to calm her down, then took her home. They claimed to have reported this to the babysitter.

Babysitter is recovering from surgery, so she was not at trial, but Liza’s mother testified that when she confronted her with Virginia/Vickie’s story, she was “offended.”  Enough said.

Virginia/Vickie both admit that they never reported to the parents, the hospital, or the police what had happened.  State regs say it has to be done within an hour.  St. Jude’s Policies and Procedures say “within 24 hours or at least within the quarter.”

Virginia/Vickie say that Liza never reported the rape, but only the butt touching, but they cannot explain how Liza was able to draw a perfect layout of the home that she was raped in – and in which she was never supposed to have been.

When Rhonda learns that Virginia/Vickie failed to inform the mom, she takes it upon herself.

Mom removes Liza and takes her to the hospital where the police are called, and investigations begin.

Staff meeting ensues to discovery who is the “snitch.”

Rhonda admits her role.

They say they were going to fire her – but she quits.                                                                                                                   

They create incident reports and try to make her out as a bad employee.  (Mistake – she worked for THEM!)

Then they fire Monette a couple of weeks later, allegedly for taping a patient’s mouth shut and tying her hands with phone cord.  They create a “bad employee” file on her, too.

They have fake incident reports on Liza, Rhonda, and Monette.  Monette had already called MHMR about other forgeries, and MHMR had pulled the license from St. Jude’s for forgery of her signature.  Rhonda testified that they tried to coerce forgeries out of her, too.  When I stacked up the incident reports on Liza in front of the jury, they saw that the pens used on these several incident reports (supposedly written months apart) were in surprisingly similar (same) ink.

Then, the jury learned that after Gabriel was indicted, Virginia posted his bond and he fled to Kenya – out of reach of our justice system.

Vickie blurted out that the home was closed, so I ran with it:  Yes, the home is closed.  Yes, the defendants have run to Africa.  What else can we do?  When people wake up in New York City tomorrow morning, I hope that you have told people loudly that those least capable of caring for themselves will not be treated this way – not in Galveston County, Texas.

Props to Rafe Foreman for DIMTY, and to Andy Rubenstein for reminding me of it last week – and for the Netherlands.  Thanks to Ron Estefan for his advice on how to approach this jury with a request for a LOT of money, and thanks to all of you for the support that I have gotten throughout the case.

I sit waiting on a jury which has most recently asked for clarification on a percentage of fault question.  I am feeling hopeful that celebration is warranted, but cautious because I have jumped the gun before.

I know that regardless, there will be no payday from these defunct corporations and penniless, uninsured, defendants.  Nonetheless, for Marty and Joe to go home after having driven up from the Valley to seek justice for their daughter would absolutely make my week.  A payday would be nice, of course, but this is the type of case that just reminds me of why I AM a Fucking Trial Lawyer!

Here is the verdict (shortened for lawyers):

  1. Did Gabriel Mwancha commit an assault against Marta Liza Grimaldo?…YES
  1. Did the negligence, if any, of those named below proximately cause the occurrence or injury in question:
  • Vickie Armstrong:     Yes
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • Judith Onuorah:       No
  • Gabriel Mwancha:     Yes
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc: Yes
  • St. Jude’s Day Services:   Yes
  1. On the occasion in question, was either St. Jude’s Home, Inc. or St. Jude’s Day Services, responsible for the acts of any person listed below?
  • Vickie Armstrong:     Yes
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • Judith Onuorah:       No
  • Gabriel Mwancha:     Yes
  1. Did the conduct of any defendant listed below intentionally inflict severe emotional distress on Marta Liza Grimaldo?
  • Vickie Armstrong:     Yes
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • Judith Onuorah:       No
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc: Yes
  • St. Jude’s Day Services:   Yes
  1. Was the conduct of Gabriel Mwancha a proximate cause of the injury to Marta Liza Grimaldo?    YES
  1. Was the conduct of any of the persons listed below a proximate cause of the injury to Marta Liza Grimaldo?
  • Vickie Armstrong:     Yes
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • Judith Onuorah:       No
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc: Yes
  • St. Jude’s Day Services:   Yes
  1. What percentage of negligence that caused injury to Marta Liza Grimaldo do you find attributable to each of those found by you to have been negligent?
  • Vickie Armstrong:     20%
  • Virginia Onuorah:     45%
  • Judith Onuorah:       0%
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc: 10%
  • St. Jude’s Day Services:   20%
  1. Did Virginia Onuorah or St. Jude’s Home engage in any false, misleading or deceptive act or practice that Marta Liza Grimaldo relied on to her detriment and that was a producing cause of damages or injury to Marta Liza Grimaldo?
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc: Yes
  1. Did Virginia Onuorah or St. Jude’s Home engage in any unconscionable action or course of action that was a producing cause of damages or injury to Marta Liza Grimaldo?
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc: Yes
  1. Damages:
  •  Past Mental Anguish:        $2,000,000
  • Future Mental Anguish:       $2,000,000
  • Past Physical Pain:          $5,000,000
  1. Do you find by clear and convincing evidence that the harm to Marta Liza Grimaldo resulted from Malice by any of the listed defendants?  (unanimous required)
  • Vickie Armstrong:     Yes
  • Virginia Onuorah:     Yes
  • Judith Onuorah:       No
  • Gabriel Mwancha:     Yes
  1. Do you find by clear and convincing evidence that the harm to Marta Liza Grimaldo resulted from gross negligence attributable to St. Jude’s Home? (unanimous required)

_ NO ANSWER (jury told me later that they were 11 – 1 on this one)

  1.        Punitive Damages
  • Vickie Armstrong:            $   400,000
  • Virginia Onuorah:            $4,000,000
  • Judith Onuorah:              $0
  • St. Jude’s Home, Inc:        $1,000,000
  • St. Jude’s Day Services:       $2,500,000
2017-12-27T11:25:35-07:00 March 13, 2012|TLC Blog|
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