New court records give more insight into the surveillance video at the heart of a $20 million lawsuit against Disney Cruise Line.
Disney says the video footage vindicates the company and proves no crime happened against a 3-year-old girl. But the family suing Disney argues the footage captures the sexual assault on the Disney Fantasy in 2020 and shows staff ignoring their child when she was being inappropriately touched by an older child.
The anonymous Vermont parents are suing Disney. Last week, reports written by experts obtained on both sides were filed in federal court. The new court records also reveal the 3-year-old had accused a teenage relative of touching her a month after the cruise, adding another twist in the family’s legal fight.
In January 2020, in the cruise’s Oceaneer Club, the 3-year-old was lying down with her dolls on a mat while another child — a 7-year-old girl dressed as Star Wars’ Princess Leia — lay against her in a spooning manner, according to a report by Robson Forensic, a company hired by the family. The report included screenshots of the surveillance footage.
“The older girl was physically over top and/or controlling the movement of (the 3-year) as depicted in the video for most of the 17 minutes of the video,” the report said. “Older girl’s hand is not visible, but her elbow is in such a position that her hand would have been able to reach the belly, pelvis, groin, or thighs” of the 3-year-old.
The child’s father said in a court deposition, “It’s just absolutely appalling to me that this was allowed to go on. This is a complete stranger, the hands and body all over my daughter, period.”
The child’s mother said in her deposition, “I cannot see (Princess Leia’s) hands, which is concerning. … My daughter is frozen because she doesn’t know what’s happening.”
Both parents’ depositions were taken in February for their 2021 federal lawsuit against Disney Cruise Line and were also publicly viewable in the court case.
Disney denied the family’s allegations, calling them “fiction.”
“The evidence here is irrefutable,” Disney said in its motion for summary judgment filed last week. “The CCTV footage leaves no room for doubt: there is not now, nor has there ever been, a basis for this suit.”
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office reviewed the video footage in 2021, found no evidence a crime occurred and then closed the case, according to the court records.
Disney’s expert, Gina Duarte-Romero, argued the 3-year-old was lying in a comfortable position and appeared to be sleeping next to Princess Leia.
“It is my opinion that (the child) was not assaulted in any way,” wrote Duarte-Romero, an adjunct at Florida International University whose background is in education, in a report. “The other child/Princess Leia is being affectionate. This is natural behavior and (the 3-year-old) does not appear to be struggling or uncomfortable in any way. There is no groping, grabbing or inappropriate touch of any kind.”
The child’s mother was angry that cruise employees hadn’t intervened and protected her daughter.
“They should have had more eyes on those little ones,” the mother said in her deposition.
Duarte-Romero argued Disney’s child care area had adequate adult supervision.
Both Disney and the family are pushing to stop the other side’s expert witnesses from testifying at trial.
When the mother picked up her daughter from the cruise ship’s child care facility that evening, the 3-year-old said, “Mommy, I was scared. I don’t feel good,” according to the mother’s court deposition.
The little girl refused to wear her underwear and complained of pain the following day on the cruise.
In February 2020, a month after the cruise, her parents said they became more concerned about the girl’s inappropriate behavior, which made them fear she had been exposed to something bad. Then, that same month, the child told her father a relative touched her and the family contacted Vermont State Police, according to court records.
The Department of Children and Families investigated the allegations but did not take any action, and the relative was not charged with a crime by law enforcement, according to the mother’s deposition.
“I had no reason to doubt that something happened to my daughter. I had reason to doubt that it was (the relative) that assaulted her,” said the child’s mother, who is an occupational therapist, in the deposition. “He doesn’t stay alone with her and my eyes are on my kid.”
The mother said she believed the family member had been falsely accused and perhaps reminded the little girl of someone else.
“Because 3-year-olds don’t just report things,” the mother said in her deposition. “There was something in how she was saying it that she was trying to let us know it was someone that looked or she perceived like (the relative).”
The mother said she was trying to find out what really happened to her daughter. She believed her child had been sexually assaulted on the Disney Cruise ship after she said her daughter confided to her father, her therapist and investigators that she was touched by someone at the cruise’s kids club, according to the deposition.
The parents detailed how the alleged assault changed their daughter, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The little girl, now age 6 and in kindergarten, doesn’t want to be alone without her parents and won’t sleep by herself. Her independence is rattled.
Once, the family ate an early Valentine’s Day dinner at a restaurant decorated in shiplap and served four-course meals, like the ones they had on the cruise. The little girl started crying and urinated herself in the middle of the floor when they returned back home, the mother said.
It’s affected her in school too, the family said.
“She is tired. There’s a lot of little things going through her little mind all day and it might not be able to stay focused on the things that she should be focused on,” the mother said.
Disney attorney Jerry Hamilton asked the girl’s father what he wanted to accomplish from their lawsuit.
“Justice for my daughter,” the father said in his deposition.
The attorney asked what amount of money equaled justice.
“$20 million,” the father said. “Nothing less.”