Riverside, Calif. • A woman who was molested for years by her stepfather has been awarded $2.28 billion by a California jury in a lawsuit that also implicated her mother and the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which both parents were active, her attorneys announced.
The panel in Riverside County Superior Court awarded damages Tuesday to a woman described in court papers only as Jane Doe, who said she was sexually assaulted by her stepfather from age 5 until she was 14, according to an announcement by the law firm of Gary A. Dordick.
The lawsuit alleged that beginning in the 1980s, the stepfather sexually abused the girl. The assaults took place at their Lake Elsinore home and at events, meetings, and property of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the lawsuit said.
“These ongoing acts of abuse brought plaintiff to the brink of suicide,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition to the stepfather, the negligence and sexual abuse suit also named the Utah-based church and the woman’s mother. It alleged that the woman repeatedly told Latter-day Saint officials, including local lay bishops, about the sexual abuse but that they failed to report it to law enforcement in violation of church policy and also used “intimidation and shaming tactics” to keep her from telling anyone outside the church.
The Associated Press is not naming the stepfather or the mother to shield the identity of the victim. An email to the stepfather’s attorney seeking comment was not returned.
The stepfather was arrested in 1997 after Jane Doe told her high school basketball coach about the abuse, the suit said. He pleaded guilty to committing lewd acts with a child under age 14 and spent three years in state prison, according to the lawsuit.
While denying wrongdoing, the church settled its part of the lawsuit for $1 million in December, and the woman’s mother settled for $200,000 in February, according to the woman’s lawyers.
The stepfather failed to appear at trial on the first day of jury selection and withdrew his answer to the lawsuit rather than face a warrant for his arrest, and “accordingly, his attorney was not able to participate in the trial,” the law firm said in an email.
The jury awarded the woman $836 million in damages and $1.44 billion in punitive damages, according to the Los Angeles Times.