Representative Sexual Abuse Case

Theodore Karavidas represented a family in a sex abuse case, in which $1,057,000.00 was recovered in damages.

See article below:


Article originally published in ATLA Law Reporter, Vol. 4d, No. 7, Sept. 1999, p281.
R.H. v. Simon, Ill., Cook County Cir. Ct., No. 97 L 1231, June 24, 1999.

R.H. and S.G. Jr., a brother and sister, were sexually abused by their step grandfather over a period of about 15 years. After videotapes of the sexual activity were discovered in the house of the stepgrandfather and his wife-the children's grandmother-he was arrested and pleaded guilty to criminal sexual abuse. He hanged himself after serving less than one year of a 42-year prison sentence.

R.H. and S.G. Jr. suffered posttraumatic stress disorder, manifesting in a myriad of symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and anger. Psychological examination revealed S.G. Jr. is at increased risk of suffering from substance abuse, becoming a child sexual abuser, and engaging in criminal conduct, among other things. The children's mother, Sheryl G., contacted ATLA member Theodore G. Karavidas of Chicago to represent her in a lawsuit against the grandmother and stepgrandfather for compensatory and punitive damages for the stepgrandfather's acts of sexual abuse. R.H. joined the suit in her own capacity. The stepgrandfather died shortly after service of process and the lawsuit proceeded against his estate.

Suit against the grandmother alleged that she aided and abetted her husband because she witnessed the abuse but never took any action to prevent it or report it to law enforcement authorities. Instead, she abetted the abuse by maintaining a close relationship with plaintiffs.

R.H. would have testified that her stepgrandfather began to sexually abuse her when she was 2 years old and that the abuse occurred in defendants' home and in her stepgrandfather's office. She also would have testified that during a two-year period when she and her brother lived with defendants-beginning when she was about 8 and her brother about 2 years old-her stepgrandfather exposed himself to her, fondled her, viewed pornographic materials with her, and committed explicit sexual acts. He victimized her on a daily basis on more than 700 occasions.

Defendants claimed that (1) the grandmother had been unaware of the abuse, (2) the children were psychologically damaged by their parents' conduct rather than by the abuse, (3) the lawsuit was prompted by the mother's desire to profit from the abuse and to disclaim responsibility for her failure as a mother, and (4) they did not have sufficient assets to satisfy a damages award.

To counter the claim that the grandmother did not know of the abuse, plaintiffs would have presented evidence regarding the frequency and duration of the abuse, and R.H. would have testified that the grandmother once walked in during the abuse. Karavidas also planned to call plaintiffs' aunt and uncle, whose daughter had also been sexually abused by the stepgrandfather.

The aunt would have testified that her daughter and R.H. told her that stepgrandfather had exposed himself to them and did "bad things to them" and she then informed the grandmother of the abuse. Further, defendants' friends and family would have testified that defendants had a dependent relationship, and forensic psychiatrists and a psychologist would have testified about the grandmother's likely denial and acquiescence in her husband's abuse.

To rebut the claim that the abuse was not the substantial cause of the children's psychological injuries, Karavidas planned to call the children's mother and Drs. Laura Schultz and Barry Leavitt, Chicago psychologists who treated the children. They would have testified about the effects of sexual abuse on the children. Plaintiffs also would have presented testimony from psychiatrists and psychologists that some of the children's psychological injuries are unique to sexual abuse.

After a lengthy pretrial conference, the parties structured a settlement with a present value of more than $1 million. One of defendant's insurers contributed $750,000; the stepgrandfather's estate, $157,500; and another of defendants' insurers, $100,000.

Karavidas advises other attorneys handling cases involving sexual abuse by family members to take the following actions: (1) depose everyone with knowledge of the abuse, (2) depose family members and friends of the defendants, (3) obtain all videotapes and photographs that document the abuse, (4) confer with law enforcement authorities and obtain their investigative reports and evidence, (5) investigate defendants' financial assets, (6) retain reputable, knowledgeable expert witnesses, and (7) monitor the victims' treatment.

Karavidas said, "I hope that people with knowledge of child sexual abuse will come forward to report the abuse and take all appropriate steps to protect the victims."

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