A Santa Monica jury has awarded a female news producer $5.42 million after finding that a West Hollywood nightclub was negligent in the sexual assault on her in a club restroom.
The 43-year-old woman sued the Here Lounge and club worker Victor Cruz, saying that she was assaulted and raped by him March 23, 2009. The Times is not identifying her because she is a victim of a sex crime.
After a 15-day trial in Santa Monica Superior Court, jurors found that Cruz committed a sexual offense that harmed the woman and that Here Lounge's negligence was a substantial factor in causing that harm. They found the club was responsible for 40% of the verdict, Cruz 60% and attributed none of the blame to the woman.
"This club turned a blind eye to sexual activity that was allowed to occur in the restroom area," attorney John Taylor said. "Although they had a stated policy of security guards being present in the bathrooms, they weren't present at the time of the attack. The guards abandoned the place where most problems go on."
Taylor said he believes Thursday's verdict was the largest awarded by a jury for sexual assault against a club or bar. Attorneys for the club and its insurer did not return messages and telephone calls Friday for comment.
Jurors rejected a defense that the sexual acts were consensual and that security guards had circulated through the restroom area.
The woman had been drinking with a friend in West Hollywood when the friend decided he was too intoxicated and took a cab home. Alone and intoxicated, the news producer went into the Here Lounge at on Robertson Boulevard shortly after 12:30 a.m, according to her lawsuit.
Video cameras captured her buying a bottle of water in the lower bar before walking out onto a patio area and sitting on a bench for about 10 minutes, according to court records.
Between 12:54 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., she entered a unisex restroom, according to court papers. The lawsuit alleged that as she closed the door to the stall and began to sit on the toilet, Cruz barged in and sexually assaulted her before she ran out of the club. A good Samaritan found her a block away and called 911, court records say.
Sheriff's investigators took her to the Santa Monica-UCLA Rape Treatment Center, which documented her injuries and collected DNA samples from her body and clothing. Cruz was arrested in December 2009 on suspicion of stealing from club patrons and was convicted; a swab was taken of his DNA, according to court records.
In an initial criminal trial, the outcome was a hung jury. A jury in a subsequent criminal trial acquitted Cruz, Taylor said.
Cruz vanished before the civil trial, Taylor said. But jurors saw a video of his testimony from the criminal proceedings, Taylor said.