Massage Envy Case Has A Tampa Connection
Although attorney Joe Alvarez was just standing up for the rights of injury victims, which is what he always does, he soon found himself near the center of a nationwide controversy. The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. was at the forefront of the massage envy scandal with one of the first cases in litigation.
The story began in 2012, when massage therapist Ronald Bruinius allegedly assaulted a Massage Envy customer at the location on McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater. Although Pinellas County prosecutors refused to press charges, Mr. Bruinius was later convicted on similar counts stemming from a similar incident in Seminole. Since this Massage Envy victim did not get justice from prosecutors, she turned to The Matassini Law Firm, P.A., who filed a “Jane Doe” suit on her behalf. During the course of this lawsuit, Mr. Alvarez, an associate with the Tampa personal injury firm, discovered widespread allegations of sexual abuse at Massage Envy locations all across the country. On average, one complaint every twenty days went all the way to the company’s Arizona corporate headquarters. Yet Massage Envy had a policy of sweeping these incidents under the rug and not even reporting them to law enforcement. The company “operates under a shroud of secrecy,” Mr. Alvarez remarked. He also noted that many victims have suffered for years as a result of this conduct.
In response, Massage Envy initially trivialized the situation, pointing out that the complaints amount to a few incidents out of roughly 125 million massages. Nevertheless, “we are constantly listening, learning, and evaluating how we can continue to strengthen our policies with respect to handling of these issues,” according to a statement.
The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. was able to secure a favorable settlement that brought justice and closure to the client.
Claims Based on Negligent Hiring and Negligent Supervision in Tampa
If an employee commits an intentional tort, like sexual battery, such an action is clearly outside the scope of employment, so the baseline employer liability theory (respondeat superior) does not apply. But there is an old saying in the law that wherever there is a wrong, there is also a remedy. That may not be true in every case, but it is certainly true with regard to intentional employee torts in Florida.
It is impossible for employers to avoid responsibility for these acts by blaming them on rogue employees because of the law regarding negligent hiring and negligent supervision. These two theories are similar in many respects. The negligent hiring rule applies if:
- The employer had a duty to hire workers who were competent,
- The employer hired incompetent workers and therefore breached that duty,
- Said violation substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s injuries, and
- The law should protect the victim/plaintiff.
If the incompetency involves a criminal record, there must be a relationship between the two. Assume ABC Company hires Bill, who has 3 prior DUI convictions. If Bill assaults someone while at work in Tampa, ABC is probably not liable for negligent hiring, because his criminal background has no relationship with the intentional tort. Otherwise, people with any criminal record would be effectively disqualified from any job, and that’s clearly not fair. However, if Bill were given a job by ABC to drive a bus with customers and Bill crashed the bus because he was drunk, then ABC would likely be liable under those theories.
Sometimes, issues arise after the tortfeasor (negligent actor) begins work but before the incident occurs. In this case, negligent supervision may apply. The elements are:
- The employer knew, or should have known, that the employee presented an unreasonable risk of harm, and
- The victim/plaintiff suffered injury.
In the above case, Massage Envy clearly knew that there was an ongoing problem with its massage therapists. It therefore had a duty to screen potential employees more vigorously, monitor current employees more closely, and warn customers of the potential risk. However, the company did none of these things, which is probably why it settled the “Jane Doe” lawsuit on confidential terms.
Partner with Assertive Lawyers
Employers are normally liable for the tortious or negligent acts of their employees. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We have offices in both Hillsborough County and Volusia County.