Judge Awards Sex Abuse Victim $1 Million
Jane Doe v. Mario Fusco Jr.: A woman who was sexually abused as a teenager by a relative who had promised to tutor her was awarded approximately $1 million in damages by a judge in Waterbury recently.
The woman, who lives in Wolcott and is now 23 years old, sued Mario Fusco, Jr., a former teacher at Wallingford's Alternative High School, in May 2012, a month after the man was sentenced to eight years in prison for the abuse.
In civil court the judge granted the woman permission to go by a pseudonym so as not to identify her.
According to the complaint filed by the woman's lawyer, Gerald Sack, of the Law Offices of Gerald S. Sack in West Hartford, the victim and Fusco are cousins. In 2004, when the plaintiff was 14 and Fusco was employed as a teacher, he agreed to tutor her.
The lawsuit claims that during the tutoring sessions they would study, watch movies or play games. After earning the teenager's trust, Fusco then began asking personal questions.
"Fusco began questioning plaintiff regarding matters of a sexual nature such as whether she was sexually active and whether she knew how to do certain things," read Sack's complaint. "Fusco convinced plaintiff that if she didn't do certain sexual things right she could possibly hurt someone and he told her he would show her how to do certain sexual things correctly so she wouldn't hurt the person she was with."
Sack's complaint further claimed Fusco pressured the girl into masturbating, performing oral sex on him and sending him nude photos. The lawsuit alleged assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Sack claims the victim has suffered "severe psychological injuries" as a result of the abuse, which lasted until she was 17 years old. Additionally, Sack alleged that the victim has endured feelings of intense embarrassment, self-blame and guilt, stress and anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and trust issues. Sack said the abuse has seriously impaired her social and occupational functioning.
Sack, in the complaint, said she would need "considerable sums of money for psychological care and treatment" going forward.
Fusco, of Middlebury, was arrested in May 2011 and charged with second-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. Additional charges, including child pornography and voyeurism, were later filed after investigators discovered inappropriate videotapes on his computer.
Police claim Fusco secretly videotaped the victim changing into a bathing suit when she was 18 and also taped another family member and her friend when they were around 12 and 13 years old. Fusco pleaded guilty to the charges last year and was sentenced to 15 years behind bars, suspended after eight years. After he is released, he will be on probation for 20 years,
The civil case proceeded to a bench trial last month before Judge Terence Zemetis in Waterbury Superior Court. Evidence presentation lasted one day. The victim testified.
Fusco's lawyer, Martin Minnella, of Minnella, Tramuta & Edwards in Middlebury, attempted to limit damages. During cross-examination, the victim acknowledged she isn't currently taking any medications or seeking any psychiatric care.
Minnella told the Law Tribune that the victim has had "no residual problems or effects from [the abuse]. She's not seeking any additional help for any problems. She's in a normal relationship. She's received a number of academic awards since the incident."
Minnella calculated her medical bills at $5,100.
Judge Zemetis ultimately decided to award roughly $1 million in damages. "It's a verdict that I don't think will ever be collected," said Minnella. The defense lawyer noted that his client is in prison, has no income and that the plaintiff has "a $350,000 attachment on a residence with no equity."
Sack acknowledged that the $1 million verdict will be difficult to collect. "We have a prejudgment remedy against his home, which remains in his name," said Sack. "He's unemployed. A return to his teaching career is unlikely. But on the other hand, he's relatively young, and will be out of prison in his early 40s. So we're hoping over time he'll have a means to settle out the judgment."
Sack said Fusco is going through a bankruptcy. "He's in bankruptcy but our position is this is not a dischargeable debt," said Sack. "It is my understanding from working with bankruptcy lawyers on this case that it's not dischargeable."
Sack acknowledged that damages can be difficult to recover in civil sexual abuse cases. "They're tough cases in terms of making it a good business model for a lawyer unless there is a defendant with a means to pay," said Sack.
Sack said it is better for plaintiffs when there is a business, school district or religious organization that can be sued in a sexual abuse case, such as for negligent supervision. Insurance isn't going to cover a sexual abuse claim against an individual like Fusco, Sack said.
The plaintiff's lawyer added that, for Jane Doe, the lawsuit was not about the money. "I believe she wanted a sense of closure and a feeling she had been victimized," said Sack. "It was doing the right thing for herself."
Sack would not say whether the women is currently working or is a student, as he did not want to provide additional information, beyond what was already known in court records, that might reveal her identity. "She's a very strong individual," said Sack. "She's fully motivated to continue to heal and move on with her life and is working hard to do that."•