South Florida

Gables woman loses $1.3 million award on appeal in Peeping Tom case

A Coral Gables woman who won $1.3 million in damages from the giant security company G4S in a Peeping Tom case has lost the judgment.

The Miami jury's negligence award was overturned by a state appeals court, which refused to ask the Florida Supreme Court to review its decision.

In 2014, the jury found that one of the company's guards psychologically harmed the then-teenager when he videotaped her while she was undressing. The woman, who was 17 at the time of the incident in her family's home in exclusive Old Cutler Bay, claimed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former security guard — who had been originally hired by Wackenhut, a major Miami-Dade security company acquired by G4S — was accused of using an iPhone to take videos of her naked on an August night in 2010. The company was providing security guards for the Old Cutler Bay enclave.

The one-time guard, Eric Michael Owens, had been convicted of a similar voyeur crime in California. But in its security check of Owens, then 28, Wackenhut failed to catch his criminal record as a convicted Peeping Tom.

The Miami-Dade jury found the prominent security company, owned by London-based G4S, negligent for hiring and retaining Owens — holding the firm responsible for the woman's psychological injuries. Since the incident, the woman has graduated from Duke University.

However, in a 2-1 vote last November, the Third District Court of Appeal overturned the jury's judgment, concluding the woman could not collect damages under the state’s “impact rule” for her emotional distress because it was not caused by physical injury.

The woman’s trial attorneys, Jeffrey Sloman and Chris Gottfried, argued that the split decision meant the Florida Supreme Court should hear the case, saying it could have far-reaching implications because the state has so many gated communities with security guards.

Lawyers for G4S maintained that Florida’s impact rule precluded recovery of damages for emotional trauma that the Coral Gables woman had suffered and might suffer in the future. While they lost that argument at trial, they prevailed on appeal.

In December, the appeals court declined to certify a question for the Florida Supreme Court that aimed to carve out an exception for emotional distress in the state’s impact rule.

“While we are indeed sympathetic with [the woman] in this case, and find Owen’s behavior to be reprehensible, in our view, these considerations are not sufficient to waive the ... rule,” wrote appeals court Judge Edwin Scales, joined by Judge Leslie Rothenberg.

But in a dissent, Judge Frank Shepherd, sharply disagreed.

Known as a conservative jurist, Shepherd countered there was “no principled reason to excuse G4S ... from responsibility for the invasion of privacy [the woman] suffered in this case at the hands of one of its employees.”