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Iowa Hotel Settles Sexual Assault Negligence Lawsuit

A hotel in Iowa has agreed to settle the lawsuit of a New Jersey woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted in her seventh-floor hotel room. Attorneys for the plaintiff say the owners of the Embassy Suites hotel in Des Moines agreed to the deal shortly before she was scheduled to testify at trial on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, according to the Des Moines Register. The terms of the settlement, including the amount of compensation involved, have not been released.

According to court filings, the plaintiff, Cheri Marchionda, was staying at the Des Moines hotel for a business trip when she was approached by a man, later identified as Christopher LaPointe, at the hotel bar. Marchionda says she rejected LaPointe’s drunken advances, at which point the hotel bartender told her that LaPointe, though inebriated, was “harmless.”

Hotel Room

At the elevator on the way to her hotel room, she was approached again by LaPointe, who tried to flirt with her before she stopped on the seventh floor and went to her room. The next night, Marchionda was again approached by a drunken LaPointe, who sat down with her at her table and had at least three beers and a shot of liquor. Marchionda went back to her room while LaPointe had a conversation with a bartender. According to surveillance video obtained from the hotel, the bartender commented on the failure of LaPointe’s “flirtatious efforts,” to which LaPointe responded, “The night is not over yet.”

Plaintiff: Hotel Gave Key To My Attacker

During the night, Marchionda awoke to find LaPointe inside her hotel room, touching her leg. He went on to beat and sexually assault her over the course of two terrifying hours. How did LaPointe, a stranger, gain access to the plaintiff’s hotel room? As police later learned during their investigation, LaPointe asked the hotel’s front desk for a key to the plaintiff’s hotel room. Reports suggest that he was given the key without being asked to prove that he was registered to the room or even a hotel guest.

But things get even worse. LaPointe had difficulty using the key to enter the plaintiff’s room because she had engaged the door’s safety latch. He apparently asked a maintenance worker to disable it for him, saying he was in a fight with his “girlfriend,” and she had locked him out for the night. Police investigators say the maintenance worker let LaPointe in and left, without investigating the situation further.

“A Special Duty Of Care”

“Each defendant owed a special duty of care to her, including a duty to provide for and assure her safety and security while at the hotel,” an attorney for the plaintiff told the Des Moines Register. “To not expose her to burglary, assaults or attacks by others […] and to not assist others in burglarizing, assaulting or attacking her.”

In her lawsuit, Marchionda accuses the hotel’s manager, desk clerk, and maintenance man of violating internal hotel policies by failing to check with her before turning over a key to her room and opening the door for LaPointe.

Offender Serving 20-Year Prison Sentence

Christopher LaPointe, 31 a resident of New York, was also staying at the hotel at the time. He is now serving a 20-year prison sentence at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center after pleading guilty to charges of burglary and sexual abuse. The incident took place in 2014. The plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed in June 2018 in a New Jersey federal court but eventually moved to Iowa after attorneys were unsuccessful in brokering a settlement during non-binding mediation sessions.

Plaintiff Hopes To Become Survivor Advocate

Normally, we would not publish the name of a sexual assault survivor, but through her attorney, Marchionda says she is releasing her name to the public in order to serve as an advocate for hotel safety and sexual assault survivors. “It’s been a long fight for this woman,” the attorney said, noting that his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the attack. The lawyer added that she lost her executive sales job in light of the trauma she suffered. Doctors say she will require at least six months of treatment for her PTSD before she can begin working again.

Initially, Marchionda filed suit against both Embassy Suites and Hilton Worldwide, but these two defendants were dismissed from the case in due course. In the end, the lawsuit’s defendants included Hammons Inc. and Atrium TRS III, the two companies listed as operators of the hotel.

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