The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down a landmark decision and a major victory for the victims of sexual abuse.
The court ruled that, for the first time ever, websites may be held liable for their failure to protect users from a known danger. This reversed an earlier decision that the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from lawsuits over material posted by someone else, prevented victims from suing.
The federal appeals court reversal allows a suit against Internet Brands Inc., which operates more than 100 websites, to move forward. The plaintiff, Jane Doe 14, had posted a profile on ModelMayhem.com, an Internet Brands’ owned site for people in the modeling industry. She claims she was lured to Miami for a fake audition, drugged and raped by two men who recorded the assault for a pornographic tape. She further claims that Internet Brands Inc. knew rapists were trolling one of its sites for victims and failed to warn users.
The two men who sexually assaulted Doe had been arrested and charged in 2007 in similar assaults. The plaintiff accuses Internet Brands of knowing about the assaults and the unlawful use of the site, because the company sued Model Mayhem’s original developers for failing to disclose the potential for civil suits arising from the activities. The plaintiff further accuses Internet Brands of knowing the site had been used to lure multiple women who were raped in the Miami area.
This is an important victory for the victims of sexual assault and a warning to companies like Internet Brands that they are responsible for protecting users of their websites from known dangers.