False Accusers Pay

One of the most frequent questions clients ask me is this: “After we show that the accusation against me is false, can we make the accuser compensate me for my losses?” The answer I must give in almost every case is no, we cannot.

First, most people who make false accusations don’t have enough wealth to justify suing them. A million-dollar verdict isn’t worth ten dollars if it comes against someone who is broke.

Second, public policy promotes reporting crime, especially sexual assaults and child abuse. Behind the policy is a worry that true victims will hesitate to come forward if they see bad things happen to other persons who report they have been victimized. Prosecutors and judges share this worry.

I recently represented a high school boy who had been falsely accused of rape. He was an accomplished and poised student with an especially bright future—all put in jeopardy by this accusation.

The detective investigating the case found strong evidence that the girl who made the accusation did so to deflect her father’s wrath on discovering she had had intercourse. The detective suggested the prosecutor charge the girl with making a false police report, but the prosecutor was unwilling to.

So my eyes opened wide when I read that lawyers for a child sex abuse claimant had paid a large settlement and had formally apologized to the men they had accused. This is very unusual. Thanks to Abby Sewell, Daniel Miller, and Ryan Faughnder for giving us this news.

This is particularly unusual because it was not the false accuser, but his attorneys, who made the payment.

I don’t know the details. I suspect the lawyers did a sloppy job of checking the veracity of their client’s accusation before filing the suit. Maybe they had good reason to suspect he was just trying to shake-down the accused men—as they contended—and ignored it.

I wonder whether the attorney’s legal negligence insurance policies put up the settlement money.

It likely also made a difference that there was wealth on both sides of the case.

The men accused were Hollywood executives, “rich” according to another Hollywood producer. Herman’s website portrays him as a national leader in his field and reports he obtained a $100 million-dollar verdict for just one of his child victim clients. Herman and Gallagher, whether adequately insured or not, may have been wealthy enough to justify dogged pursuit of a claim against them, and the executives were likely wealthy enough to mount that pursuit.

My falsely-accused clients should be so lucky!