Family sues Disney Cruise Line for $20 million, saying 3-year-old was sexually assaulted on ship


Orlando Sentinel

A Vermont family is suing Disney Cruise Lines for $20 million, alleging employees failed to recognize and intervene when their 3-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted by another child inside the Disney Fantasy ship’s daycare center in January 2020, federal court records show.

The anonymous couple, referred to as John and Jane Doe in records, claim the employees working at the ship’s daycare did not inform them of the assault and were not adequately trained or licensed to work with children.

Disney Cruise Line spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez denied the family’s allegations and said the lawsuit was “wholly without merit.”

“The plaintiffs’ first allegations were reported to the FBI, and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office investigated them and determined them to be unfounded,” Martinez said in a statement. “The plaintiffs have now come back with a different story, which is equally unfounded, that another young female child acted inappropriately with their child. We will vigorously defend this case in court.”

Case records from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office were not immediately available Wednesday.

The couple sailed on the Disney Fantasy from Jan. 4 through Jan. 11 and placed their daughter, referred to as R.V., in the Oceaneer Club for children age 3 to 12 aboard the ship, according to the lawsuit filed in the Orlando division of U.S. District Court on Sept. 22. Disney describes the space as a “kid’s activity center” with themed playrooms, craft areas and a media room.

On Jan. 9, 2020, R.V. was in the club’s Lab Media Lounge with other children when she was “physically restrained and sexually assaulted by a significantly older child,” records show.

R.V.’s parents claim the Magical Cruise Company, which operates as Disney Cruise Line, had inadequate child care staffing and left R.V. and the other children unsupervised, according to court records.

The lawsuit claims the staff should have separated children by age group to reduce the risk of sexual abuse and say employees should have placed R.V. in the nursery for younger children. The child accused of improperly touching R.V. has not been identified to the family, said Michael Winkleman, the attorney representing R.V.’s parents.

The lawsuit does not detail how R.V.’s parents learned about the assault. Winkleman said the potty-trained child began having accidents after the cruise — a sign of sexual abuse — and tried to reenact what happened with her father.

In the lawsuit, R.V.’s parents say R.V. was physically injured and suffered “mental anguish and trauma” during the assault. R.V., now 5, has responded well to treatment but she and her family will be dealing with the assault’s effects for years, Winkleman said.

“It’s easy to say this is a parent’s worst nightmare,” he said. “They went on a Disney cruise, they put their child in, basically, the daycare of Disney. This is about the last thing that they would ever imagine would happen.”

The family has not learned what specific training the ship’s daycare facility employees receive, but the employees’ alleged failure to act and notify R.V.’s parents afterward shows “a clear issue” with their abilities to recognize sexual assault, Winkleman said.

“The crew members that are working in this childcare setting must be trained in order to identify incidents like this,” he said.

Through the lawsuit, the family primarily hopes to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and rape aboard cruise ships, Winkleman said. The Disney Fantasy recently resumed sailing to the Caribbean last month after pausing during the pandemic.

“In their eyes, if they can raise awareness about it and prevent this from happening to even one other child, that’s a huge victory,” he said.