A Harris County jury has returned a $44 million verdict against Hilton Management LLC after finding that hotel personnel placed an unconscious and vulnerable guest in the wrong room, leading to her sexual assault.
Attorneys from Blizzard Law partnered with trial lawyer Michelle Simpson Tuegel to represent rape survivor Kathleen Dawson in the lawsuit against Hilton Management LLC and her accused attacker, Larry Clowers, who was a co-worker of Ms. Dawson at the time of the assault.
Jurors agreed that Hilton’s negligence played a significant role in the March 2017 incident and awarded Ms. Dawson $44 million for medical expenses, lost earning capacity and mental anguish. The jury also found Mr. Clowers sexually assaulted Ms. Dawson. It is believed to be the largest negligence verdict in a sexual assault case against a major hotel.
“Witnessing how one encounter can change a woman’s life forever is terrifying,” said attorney Ed Blizzard. “These jurors understood the crippling effect this event had on Ms. Dawson and returned the largest known verdict for a sexual assault victim against a major hotel group. This verdict sends a clear message to hotels that they must treat all of their guests, especially the vulnerable ones, with respect, care and dignity.”
According to court testimony, a woman passing by the Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel in downtown Houston called 911 when she saw a man with his pants unbuckled and unzipped standing over an incapacitated woman lying on the ground. Police arrived and hotel staff brought a wheelchair to transport Ms. Dawson, who was intoxicated and unable to communicate or walk.
Although Ms. Dawson had identification in her purse, security staff failed to determine that she was, in fact, a guest with a room registered in her name. The staff also failed to question Mr. Clower’s claim that “she’s with me.”
Jurors in the trial watched Hilton security video showing Ms. Dawson being ushered by Hilton security and the police into Mr. Clower’s room. Ms. Dawson awoke to being sexually assaulted in the early morning hours.
“Room key policies exist to prevent this very thing, but Hilton failed to follow even the most basic procedure everyone who has ever stayed in a hotel has experienced: checking the registered guest’s identification,” said Anna Greenberg, one of Ms. Dawson’s attorneys. “Worse yet, Hilton blamed the victim and sided with the alleged rapist, in spite of copious video and physical evidence corroborating the assault.”
In her closing, Ms. Tuegel argued, “Hilton Hotels, a company with security officers, policies, and resources, a company Kathleen paid to have a safe place to lay her head at night, paved the way to Kathleen’s sexual assault as she was ushered, like a ragdoll in Hilton’s wheelchair, not into the room she had registered and paid for, but into the room of a rapist.”