Recently I watched the Netflix Docuseries Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. It was a disturbing watch which made me feel a lot of emotions. Anger, shock, sadness, grief, rage, and some more anger to name a few emotions.
It was an interesting watch which I highly recommend it. I certainly understand if it’s not up someone’s alley because it deals with very sensitive and disturbing matters. But these are the sort of things which personal injury lawyers who deal with sexual assault, sexual abuse and trafficking claims see regularly.
If you aren’t familiar with the Jeffrey Epstein cases, his history, his wealth, power and influence, I recommend that you do your own research; or watch the docuseries.
A few notes from the series which are important for people to understand and victims of sexual abuse with potential claims to understand.
- It’s really hard for victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse and human trafficking to confront their accuser and report what they’ve been through to the authorities. It takes a lot of strength, courage and confidence to do so. And just because a victim does step forward, does not necessary mean that s/he will be believed, or that the authorities will take the complaint seriously. In the Docuseries, we saw a first two survivor sisters who reported Mr. Epstein to the FBI early on after a series of alleged sexual assaults on his New Mexico ranch. It would appear that the FBI did not do very much with these accusations until years later when more victims stepped forward. In that period of time, Mr. Epstein was left unchecked. Had the authorities properly investigated the allegations, his behaviours may have been curtailed much earlier on.
- There is power in numbers. Many victims of Mr. Epstein stepped forward to share their stories with authorities after word got out that he was being investigated. This helped the authorities build their case against Mr. Epstein, and gave the survivors confidence that they were not alone in this. It appeared that they did not have as much confidence to step forward beforehand given Mr. Epstein’s wealth, power and influence.
3. Did Mr. Epstein get the last laugh? Mr. Epstein was arrested and placed in jail. He was denied bail. Two days or so before his death, it appeared that Mr. Epstein transferred his vast wealth ($577+ million USD) to his brother via his will. Having died in prison, this meant that Mr. Epstein would not be convicted of any crime having not have been tried in Court. While the Judge did allow the survivors to share their stories, pain and grief in Court; they would not have the opportunity to see Mr. Epstein convicted of a crime. They would not have their complete day in Court experience with the accused present along with a judgment or sentencing. Perhaps even more difficult to swallow might have been the transfer of wealth from Mr. Epstein to his brother two days before his passing. This would mean that in civil proceedings if Mr. Epstein is ordered to pay a Judgment of millions of dollars, but he doesn’t have millions of dollars to pay because all the money and assets are no longer in his name; the Judgment is a hollow one which cannot be collected upon. Which brings me to my next point.
4. There is no insurance for committing a criminal act. This is a very important point. Let’s assume for a moment that Mr. Epstein was a renter without any money or wealth or tangible assets. A judgement against such a person in civil court will be meaningful, but collecting the judgment from Mr. Epstein will be very difficult. If a Defendant cannot satisfy a civil judgment it doesn’t mean that they are sentenced to life in prison. It just means that they cannot pay and will have a poor credit rating. This does little for a Plaintiff because s/he is not able to recover their award. In many sexual assault claims which our law firm sees, the accused defendant may be of little of low income. Because insurance will NOT cover a person for his/her criminal acts, recovering on a Judgement against an impecunious defendant is highly problematic and highly unlikely. This is why the transfer of Mr. Epstein’s wealth to his brother before his death added an additional wrinkle to his civil case. This is not to say that a Judge might not step in and deem transfer to be improper. But a Judge may not do this. And as of the time that Mr. Epstein passed away, before his criminal trial, he appeared to have transferred the vast majority of his wealth to his brother which would make him without assets and essentially judgment proof. To summarize, you can win a case and get a Judgment against a Defendant; but collecting on that Judgment from the Defendant is a whole other story. Our lawyers often see and hear of meritorious sexual assault cases; but the chances of collecting any real money on those cases is problematic.
5. When you sue, make sure that you are suing a party with deep pockets. But even parties with deep pockets have ways of hiding or divesting their assets to make collection difficult or impossible.
6. Sexual assault claims get often get paid out in the civil context when there is an institution linked to the sexual assault. Think teacher/coach tied to the school board or university; priest tied to the church; workplace sexual assault; military based sexual assault. In these cases the Plaintiff needs to show that the institutional Defendant knew or ought to have known that the individual defendant was a sexual predator, had a history of doing this sort of thing which the institution failed to investigate or failed to act upon. Perhaps the institutional defendant turned a blind eye to the predatory acts of the individual. It’s also helpful for the Plaintiff to show that the institutional defendant failed to conduct a proper background check on the accused employee; failed to provide that person with proper training or created an environment for the individual defendant to prey upon others which went unchecked. If a Plaintiff establishes these factors, the Plaintiff can bring the institutional Defendant into the mix and claim contribution and indemnity against them for the sexual assault.