DADE CITY — A former massage therapist and the company he worked for were ordered to pay $47.4 million to a woman who sued after a massage turned into sexual battery more than two years ago.
A Pasco jury of four women and two men deliberated about two hours Thursday after about two days of testimony, the woman's attorneys said.
"The jury was definitely sending a message to spas and massage centers all over the country with this verdict, no question," said Tom Roebig, an attorney for the woman along with his partner, Wil Florin.
The 35-year-old woman, identified during the trial only as Jane Doe, said she had gone to Essentials Massage and Facials in Wesley Chapel on Jan. 25, 2012, to relieve pain from a neck injury.
She said Raul Alberto Delarosa, who was assigned by the staff, took her to a room and told her to disrobe and cover up with a blanket while he waited outside.
When he returned and began the massage, he touched her genitals as she lay face down on the table, her attorneys said in the lawsuit.
"She was scared to death," Florin said. "She didn't know if he had a knife. She just lay there until it was over."
She later went to a hospital and reported the incident to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies sent her back to the spa with a wire, when she talked with Delarosa about the incident. Deputies then arrested him on a sexual battery charge.
He received 10 years of probation in a plea deal on Aug. 22, 2013, and lost his state license. He also had to register as a sex offender.
During the civil trial in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, testimony revealed that Essentials did not perform a background check on Delarosa, who had been fired from three previous jobs, Florin said.
Sean Conahan, who represented Essentials, did not return messages Thursday. Delarosa represented himself and also could not be reached.
Essentials has since been sold to an owner not connected to the incident.
The jury found that Delarosa committed an intentional act that damaged the woman and found both Delarosa and Essentials negligent.
It awarded her $420,000 for past and future actual damages and $12 million for past and future pain and suffering.
Jurors also found Delarosa liable for $35 million in punitive damages.
Florin said the plaintiff's attorneys would collect whatever they could from insurance and assets, but they likely won't be able to collect a dime from Delarosa.
"I don't think he's got $35 lying around," Florin said. "But the jury clearly wanted to send a message that if you're a man and you're putting your hands on a woman behind closed doors in a massage therapy establishment, it's totally unacceptable for you to do anything of a heinous nature."
As for his client, Florin said, she is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"She's certainly relieved it's over," he said. "She brought this case because she didn't want this happening to other women."