Opinion

What to Expect Now That Kevin Spacey Sexual Assault Accuser Has Died Mid-Lawsuit

Woah, didn’t see that coming. “John Doe,” the massage therapist who sued Kevin Spacey a year ago for allegedly forcing him to grab the actor’s genitals during a massage has died. Because the person had been proceeding anonymously, there are currently no details being reported on the death or the plaintiff’s identity.

Right now, the Doe sexual assault lawsuit is Spacey’s biggest legal concern. That’s because the unrelated Massachusetts criminal case against Spacey fell apart when that complaining witness pleaded the Fifth; the civil case relating to those allegations was also dismissed with prejudice. The John Doe civil case has been proceeding in California over Spacey’s objection regarding the plaintiff’s shielded identity.

So, what happens now to John Doe’s civil lawsuit? There are a few possibilities.

  1. The lawsuit could continue.

When an individual plaintiff in a civil lawsuit dies, that person’s estate inherits the lawsuit. It’s not a straightforward and simple process, though. There are the procedural issues of which beneficiaries or heirs would be permitted to receive any proceeds of trial, as well as who, exactly would make legal decisions on the estate’s behalf during the pendency of the lawsuit.

Sure, if there’s a will laying out the executor and heirs, that helps. But John Doe may well have died intestate (i.e., without a will), which means there could be drama between surviving family members over how to handle the case.

Even if the estate wants to continue the case, there are some major hurdles. First, those individuals standing in for John Doe will need to prove to the court that they have the right to litigate the case. This means piercing the plaintiff’s anonymity to at least some degree in order to adequately satisfy the court’s requirement.

Next, there will be the problem of evidence. Sexual assault cases are notoriously difficult to prove, even under typical circumstances. But when the complaining witnesses isn’t present, proof can be nearly impossible. Spacey’s lawyers certainly know this, and are likely not rushing to make any lucrative settlement offers to the Doe’s family.

  1. The lawsuit could be dismissed.

Beneficiaries of John Doe’s estate may realize that their chances of walking away with big money damages aren’t great, and just choose to preserve as much of the estate funds as possible. If they determine that the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze (or, if they value Doe’s anonymity above all else), they’ll move to dismiss the case voluntarily. Alternatively, Spacey (or the court itself) could move to dismiss the case based on lack of available evidence and end things there.

  1. John Doe’s estate and Kevin Spacey could come to a quick settlement.

This is the simplest and most direct way to end the matter for everyone involved. Likely, Doe’s surviving relatives are not expecting to devote the time and energy required to pursue a major lawsuit against a wealthy Hollywood celebrity; without the presence of the person who entitled to compensation, it’s tough to see how proceeding with protracted litigation would make much sense.

As for Spacey, he’d be smart to put this whole thing to rest ASAP. Every step in the process – which has now gotten significantly more complex – is damaging to Spacey’s wallet and image. A discreet and speedy settlement would minimize the fallout for everyone involved – and still allow Doe’s lawyer to collect his contingency fee.

[Image via Nicole Harnishfeger, Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

  1. Mediaite
  2. The Mary Sue
  3. RunwayRiot
  4. Law & Crime
  5. AmboTV