BY L. CHRIS STEWART
Rape is a devastating crime traumatizing victims physically, emotionally, and psychologically for years after the attack occurs. Social stigmas of “victim blaming” are becoming more common. This is a stigma I want to annihilate. On April 21, 2009, our 64-year-old client’s life was forever changed.
Our client, Jane Doe, after months of making and finalizing arrangements, was traveling to Washington, D.C., to deliver her late husband’s ashes for a military burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Her husband, a retired colonel with the U.S. Army, had passed away just three months prior. Emotional and tired from the drive, she stopped in Georgia, with her husband’s ashes, and checked into the Western Motel of Kingsland in Camden County. After checking into her room, she went to the motel bar to decompress from her emotional journey. A man followed our client to the bar, sat near her, and occasionally made conversation with our client and the bartender. Shortly after 5 p.m., our client paid for her drinks and left the bar, heading to her motel room.
Five minutes later, the motel security surveillance shows the aforementioned man handing a key to the front desk clerk asking for the keycard to be recoded. The motel clerk is seen recoding the key and giving it back to the stranger. After receiving the recoded key, the stranger is seen walking in the direction of our client’s room. At about midnight, our client called 911 and reported she’d been awakened by a man attacking her in her motel room, raping her right next to where her late husband’s ashes laid in an urn. The police came, investigated and took our client for a medical examination.
The following day the police found the assailant who claimed our client had invited him into her room where they continued drinking. This was basically becoming the typical “he said, she said,” with the actions (or inactions) of our victimized client being called into speculation and eventual blame.
Many people told us this case was not winnable. In addition, we had several issues to overcome. Our client at first told police she invited the stranger in after asking him to help her with her room key. She was also very emotional and, at times, confused, leading to conflicting initial statements. Plus, the police refused to charge the man with rape because he said he had been invited into our client’s room. The motel denied any liability, claiming the woman invited the alleged rapist into her room. The owner of the motel was from the area and very well known, as were the motel employees. Also, this venue had not returned a million-dollar verdict ever in a personal injury trial.
But we believed our client, and that we needed to hold the right people responsible. Once calm, our client denied that she invited the assailant to her room, which an expert witness testified is common with victims of traumatic events, especially those with a high blood alcohol content. We proved the attack with testimony of the nurse who conducted the rape examination, who testified that the tearing and bruising was consistent with force. We were also able to prove at trial the motel was negligent and at fault for failing to have a written procedure in place regarding motel keys and failure to train its employees. Our key evidence was the motel’s own security surveillance video, which showed the desk clerk giving the alleged rapist the key to our client’s room.
No matter the obstacles, justice prevailed and the jury returned a Camden County record verdict. There’s no greater pride than knowing we received restitution for our client’s physical and emotional injuries.
Chris Stewart is Managing Partner of Stewart, Seay & Felton Trial Attorneys, a personal injury litigation law firm in Atlanta. Stewart focuses primarily on cases related to auto/trucking collisions, wrongful death, and premises liability with a specialty in sexual assault. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.