The jury has reached a verdict in the civil suit filed by a woman who was raped at WE Fest two years ago -- and has found in her favor.
The now 23-year-old Stearns County woman filed the suit in December 2007, against Festivals and Concert Events (FACE), Inc., which owns WE Fest, and Security Specialists, Inc. (SSI), which was providing security for the 2006 festival where the rape occurred.
In the verdict, the jury awarded $750,000 in damages to the plaintiff, who was referred to in court papers by the initials D.D.N. Co-defendants FACE, Inc. and SSI were found to be equally liable for the damages.
"We were surprised that the jury found our client was negligent," said attorney Richard Mahoney, Minneapolis, who represented SSI. "We truly felt that they were not responsible for what happened to this young woman, and they acted properly under the circumstances."
Attorney Arlo Vande Vegte, Long Lake, Minn., who represented FACE in the civil trial, said: "When your client's being sued for millions of dollars (the plaintiff had sought between $2 million to $5 million in damages) and the jury determines your proportionate share is around $319,000, it's hard to say you were treated unfairly by the system.
"This was a very difficult case for all sides -- it was a very emotional trial," he added.
Plaintiff's attorney Konstandinos Nicklow, of Meshbesher & Spence, Minneapolis, said that while they had sought a significantly higher amount for damages, he did not feel the judgment rendered was unreasonable.
"I cannot say that the jury's verdict was not fair," said Nicklow. "I think the dollar amount (awarded) was within the range of reasonable verdicts."
All three attorneys said they would be meeting with their clients in the coming weeks to view their options and determine what, if any, further action would be taken. District Judge Michael Kirk, who presided over the trial, has given all parties 30 days to file any motions they would like to make before a final judgment is made.
Nicklow acknowledged that the final judgment could be somewhat higher -- if the judge decided to include court costs in the total, for example -- or lower than the jury awarded. But he also noted that it's often the case that the amount awarded by the jury is the same amount awarded in the final judgment.
"It's too early to tell which way this one will go," he added.
Vande Vegte also had this to say about the proceedings: "I've been trying cases around this state for 35 years, and I have never in my life encountered such wonderful people as the people in the Becker County Courthouse.
"And I mean that," he added. "They're great folks...they're friendly, they're helpful, and they treat everybody the same."
The case history
The civil suit followed a 2007 criminal trial in which Eric Joseph Fanning, 45, of St. Cloud was sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping the woman who filed the suit.
Fanning was also charged in Benton County with first-degree and third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2007, and in 1994, he pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Colorado, according to the civil suit.
Fanning was the campground attendant who checked in the plaintiff and a woman friend of hers when they arrived at the WE Fest campgrounds in 2006. He provided the two young women with tickets and a wristband, then asked if they were alone or staying with anyone in their trailer.
Fanning went to their campsite about 10 p.m. that same day, uninvited, and offered to provide D.D.N. with tickets to a concert taking place the following evening, which she declined.
Fanning, uninvited, sat and hung out with the two women at a picnic table near their camper until other campers begin arriving about midnight, after the evening's final concert.
Fanning began making advances towards the plaintiff's friend in the early morning hours, and D.D.N. spoke to WE Fest security and twice requested that Fanning be removed from her campsite, something security refused to do, according to the civil suit. In papers filed by SSI, it was stated that the security officers were told by the plaintiff's friend that she (not the plaintiff) didn't want Fanning to leave.
The plaintiff went to bed with Fanning still outside with her friend, and woke up the next morning to find Fanning in her trailer. Her friend had no recollection of Fanning entering the trailer or sleeping in her bed, according to the complaint.
On Saturday, Aug. 5, Fanning was again at the campsite making advances towards her friend. He eventually left, and about 4 p.m. that day, she and her friend went into her camper for a nap. She woke up because she had trouble breathing and found Fanning on top of her, totally naked, choking her with one hand and raping her.
She struggled to get free, at which point he put both hands on her neck. She was eventually able to get his hands away from her neck long enough to get the attention of her friend, who started screaming. Fanning got up, dressed and left.
The plaintiff reported the attack to a female security worker, who was able to help identify Fanning. He was arrested later on the WE Fest grounds and charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Prior to his arrest, WE Fest management/security had seen Fanning drinking alcohol on the grounds and knew he was trying to socialize and party with young women campers, the civil suit alleged.
In its verdict, which was issued Thursday, Nov. 6, the jury found that WE Fest was negligent in both the hiring and supervision of Fanning, and that SSI was negligent in the performance of its security duties.
The plaintiff was awarded $400,000 in damages for "past pain, disability and emotional distress," plus $330,000 for "future pain, disability and emotional distress" and another $20,000 for future health expenses.
(Detroit Lakes Newspapers editor Nathan Bowe provided background for this story.)