A Vermont family filed a lawsuit against Disney Cruise Lines on Thursday, alleging that their three-year-old child was sexually abused while participating in a ship group activity in January 2020.
They are now seeking damages amounting to $20 million from Disney’s Magical Cruise Company.
The maritime suit, filed by Lipcon, Margulies, and Winkleman, P.A., alleges that the child was aboard the Disney Fantasy liner when the assault took place after boarding at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The child was reportedly participating in the ship’s Oceaneer Youth Activities Club, where another minor allegedly abused the three-year-old.
The plaintiffs, referred to as John and Jane Doe, allege that the abuse occurred over the course of several days while aboard the Disney ship.
In one specific instance, the suit alleges that the minor visited the child care center on Jan. 9, where a CCTV video captured the older child, about age 10, lying down with the 3-year-old. During the encounter, the suit alleges the 10-year-old “excessively gropes and does not allow the minor to move nor maintain any distance whatsoever.”
As the encounter progressed, the suit claims the same CCTV footage documents the older child sexually abusing the three-year-old by touching their genitals. The victim was allegedly held down during the attack.
The older child was dressed in a Princess Leia costume from the popular Star Wars movie franchise during the alleged assault. The family says that the younger child suffered physical injuries as well as psychological harm.
The suit further accuses the Disney Corporation of negligence, stating that two crew members entered the room at the time the alleged assault occurred and failed to intervene.
“At all times material hereto, Defendant [Disney] knew of the Youth Club personnel’s unfitness and did not investigate or take corrective action including but not limited to investigating, discharging, or reassigning the unfit personnel in the Youth Club which thereby caused Plaintiff’s incident,” the lawsuit filing reads.
The attorney representing the family, Michael Winkleman, called the situation "a parent's worst nightmare."
"Any parent would reasonably think it was safe to leave their child in the care of Disney workers, but for an assault like this to occur when Disney crewmembers are supposed to be taking care of the child is unthinkable," he said in a statement to The Hill. "The victim’s parents filed this case in order to seek justice and accountability and to raise awareness about the hidden dangers of sexual assaults on cruise ships.”
In a statement sent to The Hill, Disney said the plaintiff's claims were "unfounded," and that they had changed their story regarding the incident several times.
"The plaintiffs’ first allegations were reported to the FBI, and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office investigated them and determined them to be unfounded," Disney said. "We will vigorously defend this case in court."
--Updated Sept. 25, at 5:23 p.m.