White Plains, New York – A Westchester jury has awarded a $13.3 million verdict to a 68-year-old plaintiff who sued under the Child Victims Act. After just over an hour of deliberations, the panel decided to compensate Robert Vavasour for past and future suffering. Vavasour, represented by Jordan Rutsky of Merson Law, filed the lawsuit in 2020 against his late uncle Kevin Shanley.
Vavasour had alleged that his uncle sexually abused him during a trip to Europe in the 1970s when he was 14 years old. The abuse continued even after their return. Shanley, who passed away earlier this year, denied the alleged trip ever took place in pre-trial depositions. However, when presented with photographs of the two during the trip, Shanley denied it was him, claiming he did not have a beard and was thinner than the person in the pictures.
During the trial, the plaintiff’s estate maintained the defense that the trip never happened. Nevertheless, Vavasour produced family photos from the same time period that showed Shanley with a beard and at a heavier weight. The jury found these photos to be crucial evidence, as they clearly depicted the same individual. Additionally, the plaintiff’s case was supported by a witness who had accompanied them on the Europe trip and the testimony of the plaintiff’s sister, who claimed he had confided in her about the abuse.
By insisting that the trip never occurred, the estate inadvertently allowed prior consistent statements by Vavasour to be admitted as evidence. This strategy backfired on the defense, as it gave the jury a clearer picture of the abuse. According to Rutsky, the estate’s attempt to deny the abuse by attacking the victim led to their downfall.
The trial, presided over by Westchester Acting Supreme Court Justice Helen Blackwood, was initially planned to be bifurcated. However, following motion practice, the plaintiff’s request for a unified proceeding was granted. This decision streamlined the trial to just four days and spared Vavasour from having to relive the trauma twice. Rutsky intends to seek the maximum compensation possible on behalf of his client, considering the limited estate of Shanley.
The Child Victims Act granted a lookback window for sexually assaulted minor victims to file claims against their abusers, despite the statute of limitations. Although that window has closed, over 11,000 lawsuits have been filed in New York State under the act. Subsequently, the legislature passed the Adult Survivors Act, allowing individuals who were 18 years or older at the time of their abuse to sue their abusers, even if their claims were time-barred. The lookback window for such claims is still open but will close on November 24.
The estate in this case was represented by Dennis First and Elizabeth Grogan of O’Connor O’Connor Bresee & First, who could not be reached for immediate comment. Overall, the jury’s verdict in this Child Victims Act lawsuit sheds light on the importance of providing justice to victims of sexual abuse and holding abusers accountable.