Dauphin County Courthouse (courtesy photo)
A Dauphin County jury has handed up an $88 million verdict against an HIV-positive man who pleaded guilty to raping a 6-year-old boy.
After a one-day trial, the jury awarded the victim $38 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages against Ira Scott Task. Task pleaded guilty in March to numerous criminal charges related to raping the child, who is referred to as John Doe on the Dauphin County Court docket. Task represented himself pro se at the civil trial, which was only on damages.
Harrisburg-based attorneys Benjamin D. Andreozzi and Nathaniel L. Foote tried the case for the plaintiff.
According to Andreozzi, although the victim may have been abused on other occasions, they had only been allowed to present evidence about a single incident that occurred April 20, 2015, when Task drugged and raped the child. The rape, according to Andreozzi, occurred at Task’s house and had been captured on videotape.
Task was precluded from contesting liability under the collateral estoppel doctrine because of his guilty plea, and he did not participate in the case, Andreozzi said.
Task, who was a Harrisburg resident, had been a manager of catering events at Hershey Lodge, according to Andreozzi and news reports.
“For us this wasn’t about money. It was about sending a message,” Andreozzi said. “We asked the jury to send a message to deter future conduct, and we told them that if you rape a child, you’re going to lose everything.”
The verdict is by far the largest to come out of Dauphin County in recent years.
Since 2011, only three awards from Dauphin County have made it to PaLaw Magazine’s list of the top 50 verdicts for the year. The highest of those was a $2.85 million verdict a jury handed up in 2012 in a tractor-trailer motor vehicle case.
According to Andreozzi, the victim developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident. In the suit, he sought recovery of past and future medical costs, loss of earning capacity and non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, embarrassment, and loss of enjoyment of life.
The plaintiff’s treating therapist, Ashten Trimble, was the only expert to testify in the case, Andreozzi said. She said the plaintiff will suffer many long-terms complications as a result of his post-traumatic stress disorder, and that child sexual abuse is known to plague victims long into their adult lives, Andreozzi said.
According to Andreozzi, he did not present any numbers related to the plaintiff’s economic damages, or expected loss of income.
“Although this isn’t the type of injury that you can see, it’s the type of injury that stays with you for a lifetime, and I think this case is an example of how hard economic numbers aren’t necessary to get a big verdict,” he said. “The jury was able to connect the dots.”
Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.