Withdrawn Negligence Defense In Rape Case Could Still Be A Problem

After making national news, Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa has requested that its attorneys withdraw a special defense in a case involving a rape in its hotel parking garage. 

In 2006, a 40 year old woman was sexually assaulted in front of her two small children in the hotel’s garage.  The assailant admitted the crime and was sentenced to prison.  As such, the rape was not in dispute.  The woman later sued and brought a complaint against the Marriott alleging various allegations of negligence. 

As detailed by Christian Nolan of The Connecticut Law Tribune, the attorneys representing Marriott raised two special defenses to the woman’s complaint that caused a public backlash against Marriott.  Reportedly, Marriott’s defenses included contributory negligence of the rape victim and failure to mitigate damages for the children. 

Marriott quickly changed its course and withdrew the defenses.   Marriott’s withdrawal of the defenses may spare it further public relations problems, but the potential for an angry jury at trial could remain a problem. 

At least one Connecticut attorney estimated that a jury might very well award a premium for that type of defense if pursued at trial and not proved.  Although Marriott has now withdrawn the defenses, it could still become a problem at trial based on Connecticut law concerning withdrawn pleadings. 

In Connecticut, withdrawn pleadings are no longer judicial admissions by the party, but they can remain available at trial as an evidentiary admission.   If this matter goes to trial, Marriott will have various ways to argue against admissibility of the pleading, but the initial defenses could still wind up in front of a jury as an evidentiary admission.  Once in evidence, Marriott should get the chance to explain the circumstances of raising the defenses, which may help mitigate any damage done.

In high exposure cases, the decision to raise certain special defenses is not always easy or a formality as in some jurisdictions.  In Marriott’s case, although it seems difficult to understand why the defenses were raised, we should not automatically assume there was no basis for it without knowing the full details.    Nevertheless, it appears Marriott did the right thing in withdrawing the defenses.

The rule on withdrawn pleadings serves as a reminder that withdrawing a claim in a pleading will not always prevent your opponent from using it against you in court.  As such, in Connecticut, business owners will want to consider the contents of certain pleadings filed in court because the pleadings could be used against the business as an admission.