Marriott Says It Told Insurance Company to Stop 'Blame the Rape Victim' Special Defense

BlogHer Original Post

According to an update at The Advocate on the Marriott rape case, the Stamford Marriott in Connecticut has withdrawn its offensive defense in the lawsuit filed against it by a mother raped in its parking garage in 2006. In fact, Marriott International, Inc. says it's not the company behind the defense, that its insurance company's attorneys filed the legal motion.

Across the web an outcry arose as news spread of a "blame the victim" defense submitted to the court that bore Marriott's name. I wrote about the case at BlogHer.com, "Raped at the Marriott in front of Your Todders? Too Bad, Slacker." Most of the comments on the post indicated a desire to boycott the hotel.

A spokesperson for Marriott International said that lawyers for the hotel's insurance company and companies associated with securing the parking garage filed the "special defense" that said the victim who was raped in front of her 5-year-old and 3-year-old had "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities." The spokesperson claims that when Marriott heard of the defense weeks ago, before the public protest, it asked the insurance company to withdraw it. In addition, the hotel has expressed "distress" at how The Advocate covered the story last Friday.

However, Marriott's later statement to The Advocate on Friday said nothing of an insurance company being behind the court papers. Furthermore, a hotel manager gave "no comment" while the hotel's attorney could not be reached. This was the perfect PR storm for a company with a family image.

(Marc) Kurzman (a Marriott rep.) said the Stamford Marriott staff are "surprised and distressed" by The Advocate's coverage of the lawsuit filed by the victim. He said there is a "mistaken belief that the Marriott's ownership and management was somehow responsible for the 'blame the victim' defense asserted in the legal papers."

Marriott International, Inc., issued a statement last week saying it could not comment on the defenses, and that "Marriott is profoundly sorry that such a terrible thing happened to the victim of this violent crime. And unfortunately this situation has created a mistaken impression that Marriott lacks respect and concern for Ms. Doe or other victims of violent crime." The woman is identified only as Jane Doe in court papers.

The statement said the hotel regretted the 2006 crime.

"This incident, no matter how tragic and unfortunate, should not in any way affect the reputation and credibility of our hotel." (The Advocate)

Across the Web this Marriott story was viewed as an "epic fail," a public relations disaster.

Taking the company at its word, that the defense came from an insurance company and not Marriott's actual staff, I responded to Josh Kirshner on the first Marriott BlogHer post and said it was good news that Marriott withdrew the defense; however, I wondered why the hotel chain didn't mention an insurance company's involvement in its initial statement. Josh posted the link to The Advocate's updated story.

In addition, I recalled another company that blamed an insurance company for its receiving bad press about a claim. When compared to Dollar Tree, the Marriott looks like the winner for sincerity if it's true that it told the insurance company weeks before the public outcry to withdraw the defense.

Reading my email, I've become aware of an ugly trend. Companies are hiding behind insurance companies that seem to have no problem making victims or the ill suffer more for the sake of saving money. They are willing to accuse hard-working people of fraud, aiming the full force of legal departments at them. Or as in the case of Marriott's insurance company and a different case at a Canadian University, they are willing to blame the victim of sexual assault for her assault to avoid paying damages. What a soulless way to make a profit.

Here are some of the cases I've either recalled or that were pointed out to me recently in which causing more pain for the sake of saving money was the name of the game.

1.) The Dollar Tree stores case year.

Responding to Kirshner's revelation that Marriott said the insurance company was at fault, I said, "This case reminds me of the Dollar Tree case last year in which a racist unaffiliated with the store stabbed to death a black, female Dollar Tree employee. He'd decided to kill the first black person he saw and that person happened to be stocking shelves at the store.

"The story became a greater tragedy when the store's insurance company denied paying the life insurace claim to the dead employee's 11-year old son, reasoning that because the worker was black and the crime was racially motivated, then the victim had a personal connection and not a work connection that caused her death.

People boycotted Dollar Tree, bloggers wrote their outrage, and most people saw it as a case of a worker being murdered on the job by a deranged stranger but the company trying to wiggle out of paying with the most odious reason, that "her skin color was the reason she was killed," as though she would have come across this man who killed her whether she was working at the Dollar Tree or not.

Dollar Tree said it was only doing what the insurance company said it should do, apologized, and compensated the son. The reversal was attributed to Internet social media and other public pressure. (Nordette in comments on first Marriott post.)

2.) The case of Debbie Shank vs. Walmart

Shank was a Wal-Mart employee who suffered brain damage after a car accident involving a truck. Wal-Mart's health plan paid for her health care; however, after the trucking company paid damages to the Shanks that would help with Debbie's long-term care, Wal-Mart stepped in and demanded she and her family reimburse the company for health benefits already paid.

According to CNN:The Shanks lost their suit to Wal-Mart. Last summer, the couple appealed the ruling -- but also lost it. One week later, their son was killed in Iraq.

"They are quite within their rights. But I just wonder if they (Wal-Mart) need it (about $400K) that bad," Jim Shank said.

In 2007, the retail giant reported net sales in the third quarter of $90 billion.

Legal or not, CNN asked Wal-Mart why the company pursued the money.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank's case "unbelievably sad," replied in a statement: "Wal-Mart's plan is bound by very specific rules. ... We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank's case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary, but this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan."

Jim Shank said he believes Wal-Mart should make an exception.

"My idea of a win-win is -- you keep the paperwork that says you won and let us keep the money so I can take care of my wife," he said. (CNN)

After public pressure, Wal-Mart decided to let the Shank family keep the money. From CNN's follow-up: "Occasionally, others help us step back and look at a situation in a different way. This is one of those times," Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Pat Curran said in a letter. "We have all been moved by Ms. Shank's extraordinary situation."

3.) Robin Beaton vs. Blue Cross, Blue Shield

As reported by Time, "When Health Insurance Isn't Health Insurance," In May, 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired registered nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, went to her dermatologist to be treated for acne. He mistakenly wrote down something on her chart that made it appear that she might have a pre-cancerous skin condition.

Not a big deal, right? It shouldn't have been, except that soon after that, she was diagnosed with something far more serious--invasive and agressive breast cancer.

Using the doctor's note, Blue Cross went back in her records five years to find a way not to pay the claim.

From Time's story:What Robin went through after that was a nightmare, one she tearfully described Tuesday morning in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee. "The sad thing is, Blue Cross gladly took my high premiums, and the first time I filed a claim and was suspected of having cancer, they searched high and low for a reason to cancel me," said Robin, whose hair is just beginning to grow back in from chemotherapy.

4.) Jane Doe vs. Carleton University, Canada

This case is similar to the Marriott case. From CU: We're Asking For It, a blog started to protest the university's defense language, Carleton University is being sued by the woman who was brutally sexually assaulted in 2007. In response, the university states that the victim's injuries were "caused or contributed to by the Plaintiff through her own negligence... she was not keeping a proper lookout for her own safety."

Regarding private, for-profit health insurance, I've said before that I think it's more of a scam than a service. According to a Paul Krugman opinion piece at The New York Times, about 30 percent of health insurance premiums go to underwriting where people sit around figuring out how to deny customers' claim.

Health insurance companies aside, as I consider the Dollar Tree case--if you had not been black you would have not been stabbed and so we don't have to pay--the Carleton University case and the Marriott case--if you'd watch where you were going and behaved differently you wouldn't be raped--I wonder what's up with these "blame the victim" defenses?  Blaming the victim is self-protection 101 in our society, but why can't lawyers, with all their education, rise above this primal instinct?

While Marriott says it asked for the defense to be withdrawn weeks ago before the public outrage surfaced, which included a petition from MomsRising that quickly accumulated signatures this weekend, I'm sure the anger and threats to boycott the hotel chain expedited the corporation's public disapproval of such a shameful defense. We will have made real progress when insurance companies and major corporations stop using "blame the victim" completely.

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.com CE and is the African-American Books Examiner at Examiner.com. Keep up with all her writing adventures through Her411.com.

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