National Trial Lawyers member Brian McCormack of Callahan & Blaine secured a $3.5 million verdict on behalf of a California woman who was raped after her assailant got a key to her hotel room from the front desk.
On April 19, 2014, the plaintiff, a 28-year-old clerk at BevMo!, went to visit her boyfriend, who was staying at a Holiday Inn hotel in Frazier Park. While she was asleep in her boyfriend’s hotel room, Jonathan Padilla, a co-worker of the boyfriend who was also staying at the hotel, impersonated the boyfriend to obtain a key from the front desk clerk, Lori Anne Scharon. Padilla then used the key to enter the boyfriend’s room while the visiting girlfriend was asleep. The girlfriend awoke as Padilla raped her, and Padilla fled back to his own room. Police later arrested Padilla at the hotel. Padilla pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced to six years in prison. The 28-year-old girlfriend sued Padilla; Sharon; and the believed operators of the Holiday Inn hotel, Holiday Inn Express Frazier Park, Holiday Hospitality Franchising Inc., Holiday Hospitality Franchising LLC, Hospitality Inc., Intercontinental Hotels Group Resources Inc., and MRSS Hospitality Inc. Several franchisors obtained summary judgment on the case against them, and Padilla, who was appearing in pro per, was dismissed from the case during trial. Thus, the matter continued against Scharon and her employer, MRSS Hospitality Inc. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that the hotel’s staff provided Padilla with the key to the plaintiff’s boyfriend’s hotel room without obtaining proper identification. The plaintiff’s liability expert opined that Scharon’s provision of the room key to Padilla was a violation of the standard of care and of hotel policy. Counsel for Scharon and MRSS Hospitality claimed that Padilla’s criminal conduct was not foreseeable and that the plaintiff and her boyfriend did not engage the secondary locks available to them in the room.
The plaintiff was raped, but she did not seek medical treatment on the night of the incident. She was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and subsequently underwent psychiatric treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy. The plaintiff claimed that she will suffer the effects of the incident for the rest of her life and that she can no longer feel comfortable sleeping at or visiting hotels. She also claimed she became fearful and introverted as a result of the incident. The plaintiff’s father testified that his daughter’s personality had entirely changed since the incident. The plaintiff’s psychiatric expert opined that the plaintiff suffers from PTSD and that she will suffer PTSD and emotional distress for the rest of her life, as she was “triggered” by men who looked like Padilla, by hotels, and by sleeping. There were no special damages requested at trial. The defense’s psychiatric expert concurred that the plaintiff suffers from PTSD, but opined that the plaintiff should recover with a full course of cognitive behavioral therapy. Defense counsel contended that the plaintiff did not comply with the psychiatrist’s recommendations regarding medication and that she did not complete therapy. Counsel further argued that the plaintiff’s alleged damages were excessive.
The jury apportioned 40 percent liability to Padilla, and 60 percent liability to Scharon and her employer, MRSS Hospitality, via vicarious liability. It also determined that the plaintiff’s damages totaled $3.5 million. After apportionment, a judgment was entered against to Scharon/MRSS Hospitality in the amount of $2.1 million.
The trial lasted ten days, and it took the five man, seven woman jury two days to reach a unanimous verdict.