Two of the 22 women who have filed suit against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson have amended their claims to include counts of negligence and gross negligence, as Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today reported last month. In addition to creating more grounds for financial recovery, those claims allow the plaintiffs to propound more discovery, and the gross negligence claim carries with it the possibility of punitive damages.
As Schrotenboer noted in a separate piece, almost all of the lawsuits already included counts of civil assault and infliction of emotional distress, and other suits could be amended to include the negligence-based claims as well. Essentially, those claims allege that Watson “knew of his sexual proclivities in massage settings” but did not take steps to prevent those proclivities from manifesting or to warn the plaintiffs of them.
David Ring, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has represented sexual assault victims and whom Schrotenboer consulted for his article, acknowledges that the new claims represent something of a reach (“How does a person negligently have a massage?” Ring wondered.) Nonetheless, they have already helped the plaintiffs achieve an important discovery-related victory. The parties were battling over whether Watson should be compelled to list all women who gave him massages since 2019, and the court ruled that he must do just that, as such a list could be relevant to proving Watson’s alleged proclivities.
Shortly after the suits were filed against Watson, the quarterback’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, publicly released a list of 18 other therapists who had sessions with Watson but who had no issues with him. The plaintiffs, though, want to know more about those sessions, along with sessions Watson might have scheduled with women aside from the 18 therapists and 22 plaintiffs. If Watson had sexual relations with them, that could bolster the argument that he routinely scheduled massage sessions with sexual intentions, and it will make the plaintiffs’ claims more believable.
So even if the legal theory behind the amended suits is shaky, the plaintiffs might still be backing Watson into a corner, as Ring and South Texas College of Law Houston professor Kenneth Williams believe. Although plenty of harm has already been done to Watson’s reputation, he was still able to land a historic contract from Cleveland and can begin taking steps toward redemption if he settles these cases quickly and avoids further revelations of (at best) embarrassing and (at worst) predatory behavior.
Per Adam Ferrise of Cleveland.com, the trial of this matter is unlikely to take place before August 1, and the parties have agreed that no trial will be scheduled between August 1 and March 1, 2023, so as to avoid conflict with the football season. As such, if the cases ultimately proceed to trial, there will be no resolution until sometime next year.