Two of the women who are suing NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson amended their lawsuits this week to add claims of negligence and gross negligence, arguing that Watson knew of his own sexual proclivities in massage sessions but failed to take precautions to prevent a reoccurrence of them.
By adding these new causes of action, they potentially widen the net of discoverable evidence they can obtain before trial and also add another way to recover damages in their lawsuits. They are among 22 women who have sued Watson and accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021.
The attorney for the 22 women, Tony Buzbee, told USA TODAY Sports Thursday that more lawsuits will be adding causes of action for negligence and gross negligence.
“Deshaun Watson has denied he acted intentionally; we believe strongly that we will prove he did,” Buzbee said. “We have also added a claim for negligence allowing a jury to assess liability for unreasonable and imprudent conduct as well. This claim is just another through which the jury can assess liability and damages against him. We will likely add this claim for most of the cases, although perhaps not all.”
Almost all of the lawsuits otherwise have claims of civil assault and emotional distress against Watson. Two others have sexual assault claims.
Adding the new negligence claims “permits the plaintiffs to widen the scope of discovery,” said Kenneth Williams, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. “They will be able to ask any questions or seek information such as texts related to those claims. Second, it provides plaintiffs another basis for recovery (of damages). Third, if plaintiffs prevail on the gross negligence claims they can be awarded punitive damages, which are damages designed to punish the wrongdoer for his/her extreme conduct.”
The 22 civil cases are entirely separate from the criminal grand jury proceedings that recently declined to indict Watson on criminal charges in 10 cases reported to police.
The lawsuits continue to proceed in court in Houston, including on Tuesday, when an attorney for the two women with the new negligence claims tried to use them to her advantage as part of a dispute over pretrial discovery evidence. At issue was whether Watson should be compelled to list all women who gave him massages since 2019, other than those already documented.
“We in fact have alleged negligence and gross negligence,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, told the judge at the hearing, which was shown online. “It goes to show that he had notice of his sexual proclivities, and he went in there knowing he had this tendency to want to act inappropriately with massage therapists.”
Watson’s attorney, Leah Graham, objected to the request, saying this information was overly broad and irrelevant to the individual plaintiff’s allegations.
But Judge Rabeea Sultan Collier overruled the objection in favor of the plaintiffs, compelling Watson to provide a history of women who gave him massages.
Watson, 26, has denied wrongdoing and recently was traded from Houston to the Cleveland Browns, a team that agreed to give him a record-setting contract of $230 million guaranteed for five years. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said the women are lying, out for money and there were “sometimes consensual encounters.” But the NFL still could suspende him based on its own investigation.
The two women who added negligence claims to their lawsuits agreed to come forward publicly by name last year to accuse Watson of misconduct: Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, both massage therapists. They say Watson exposed himself and caused his genitals to touch them during massage sessions in March and June 2020.
The new negligence claims stated that they believe Watson’s conduct was intentional while noting the Watson denies he acted intentionally.
“Thus, in the alternative, Plaintiff alleges that Watson’s conduct was unreasonable and thus negligent and grossly negligent,” the newly amended lawsuits state. “Defendant Watson owed Plaintiff the duty of reasonable care.”
They said Watson breached that duty in several ways including “scheduling a massage to be alone with Plaintiff knowing of his own sexual proclivities” and “failing to take precautions prior to the massage to prevent a reoccurrence of his known prior conduct towards massage therapists.”
They said he also failed to warn them of “his proclivities and his past conduct.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys are trying to establish a pattern of his conduct in pretrial discovery. “If he was doing this with other massage therapists, it goes to show his motive,” Brandfield-Harvey said in court Tuesday.
Watson also must answer whether he had sex with 18 therapists who came to his defense last year after the lawsuits were filed, according to a ruling by the same judge.
The two sides have an agreement not to schedule trials on these cases from Aug. 1 through March 1, 2023, helping Watson avoid them during football season. That means they might not be resolved until 2023 unless they are settled before then out of court.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org