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Key “evidence” in couple’s $20 million sexual assault lawsuit against Disney Cruise Line may not hold up in court

Surveillance video from onboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship is the focal point of a couple’s $20 million lawsuit against Disney Cruise Line, but an attorney for Disney and the judge presiding over the case say they don’t see evidence of an assault within the contents of that video footage.

Disney Cruise Line is known by fans as the most magical cruise line on earth. Passengers onboard many of Disney’s magical cruises even get to spend time at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. In 2021, the cruise line showed more than $650,000,000 in revenue and served more than 312,000 passengers, according to CruiseMarketWatch.

Castaway Cay

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Earlier this month, the cruise line welcomed the brand-new Disney Wish to its home port at Port Canaveral. The Disney Wish joins the fleet which includes the Disney Dream, the Disney Magic, the Disney Wonder, and the Disney Fantasy.

But one couple alleges in court documents that their family’s time aboard the Disney Fantasy was more like a nightmare.

The couple, simply named “John and Jane Doe” in court documents, anonymously filed a $20 million suit against Disney Cruise Line, alleging that their three-year-old child was the victim of sexual assault at the hands of a seven-year-old child when the two were at Disney’s Oceaneer Club onboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship.

According to Florida Politics, the focal point of the case is on a 16-minute clip of closed-circuit surveillance video which the couple alleges shows their child being sexually molested by the older, unrelated child, while onboard the cruise ship.

disney cruise ship

Credit: The New York Times

But an attorney for Disney argues that the video does not show evidence of a sexual assault. He further denies that any such incident ever took place onboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship at all. The judge presiding over a hearing for the case, U. S. District Court Judge Roy Dalton, Jr., seems to agree with the attorney for Disney.

“Nothing in the video–and I looked at it pretty carefully–jumped out at me,” Judge Dalton said during the recent court hearing.

But the judge agrees that the attorneys for the toddler’s family have a right to receive more information from Disney Cruise Line so they can understand what actually happened as part of the civil lawsuit.

The family anonymously filed suit against Disney Cruise Line in September 2021, claiming that their then-three-year-old child was sexually abused at the Oceaneer Club aboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship in January 2020.

The current state of the kid's clubs on Disney Cruise Line - Pack Your Pixie Dust

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Attorneys for the family and attorneys for Disney convened before Judge Dalton to talk about the civil suit, the information the family wants to receive from Disney Cruise Line, and the dynamics of a lawsuit that involves a young child as the alleged victim and a young child as the alleged perpetrator.

Disney previously identified the alleged perpetrator as a seven-year-old girl wearing a Princess Leia costume at Disney’s Oceaneer Club, according to court transcripts from a February 16 hearing that were only recently filed in federal court records.

Court documents allege that the three-year-old child was “excessively groped and sexually touched by the older child and did not have the physical capability to break through the physical restraint and thereby end the sexual assault.” The documents further allege that assault took place in “plain sight” of Disney crew members and that the crew members “failed to recognize” that it was taking place.

Disney's Oceaneer Club Disney Dream | CruiseBe

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But it’s not clear what the video shows exactly, but Judge Dalton described some of the content and shared some of the questions that the footage raises.

“I don’t know whether [the child] was upset,” Judge Dalton said during the hearing. “It appears that she might have been. They were attempting to console her. Why were they consoling her? What was the problem? What did she talk to them about? Did she make some report to them of some sort of inappropriate encounter? The child clearly communicated something to them.”

Judge Dalton continued by saying that Disney Cruise Line has that information, but the family’s attorney “has access to none of that.”

“At a bare minimum, why would the plaintiff not be entitled to talk to those people and say, ‘What’s going on here? Here is the video. Here you are. The child seems upset. What did she say? What did you say to her? Did she report something untoward?'” the judge explained.

But Jerry Hamilton, an attorney representing Disney, argued that Disney shouldn’t be forced to hand over the information, as the lawsuit is specifically focused on the 16-minute clip of surveillance video. Hamilton further said that the footage on which the family continues to focus does not show evidence of a sexual assault.

“That’s the time period that they’re hyper-focused on, and they’re saying that was a sexual assault,” Hamilton argued. “Well, the video is the clearest evidence of that.”

Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship - Disney Cruise Line Information, News and Discounts

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Disney’s attorney told the judge that the family never reported the alleged incident to Disney Cruise Line Cast Members or staff.

“There was never a report of any sexual assault on board our ship,” he said. “There was never any investigation. [The family] left the ship and didn’t report any misdeed at all.”

In response to the filing of the suit against the cruise line, a spokesperson for Disney said that the parents have changed their story after their first account was found to be baseless.

READ ALSO: Three named in federal lawsuit refiled against Florida governor over dissolution of Disney’s Reedy Creek District

“The plaintiffs’ first allegations were reported to the FBI, and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office investigated them and determined them to be unfounded,” the spokesperson explained. “The plaintiffs have now come back with a different story, which is equally unfounded, that another young female child acted inappropriately with their child.”

The spokesperson further said that Disney will fight the case. “We will vigorously defend this case in court.”

“The CCTV alone doesn’t show the evidence,” said Stefanie Black, an attorney who is part of the legal team. “That’s not the only evidence in this case. In fact, we’re also dealing with a minor that was 3 at the time, and now she’s 5, and she’s more verbal and she has verbalized the incident to her therapist. That, of course, probably goes more toward damages, but also to liability.”

Disney Fantasy Itinerary, Current Position, Ship Review | CruiseMapper

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But Judge Dalton warned Ms. Black, saying that involving a child of such a young age in proceedings of the court “creates a whole host of problems, which is why I have you here.”

“I am not going to permit this [now] five-year-old to be deposed,” the judge continued, “and that may cause you some difficulties, Ms. Black, at some point down the road, because if you’re going to hang your case on the testimony of a then three-year-old, now five-year-old, you’re probably not going to get where you want to go.”

Disney Fantasy | Best Cruise Ship | TravelingMom

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In December 2021, Disney filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, stating in court documents that the couple’s lawsuit had no merit.

READ ALSO: Disney settles with Guest for $100,000 related to lawsuit over bedbugs at hotel at Disneyland

“Plaintiffs and their counsel have viewed the hours of CCTV footage tracking [the child’s] movements in the Oceaneer Club during the cruise,” Disney said in the court filing. “The CCTV proves that at no point was [the child] ever touched inappropriately, let alone sexually assaulted.”

At the time of this publication, it is not clear when Judge Dalton intends to hear the case.

About Becky Burkett

I'm an enthusiastic writer who finds joy in random things like cold weather, snow, "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," journals full of blank paper, countdowns to Christmas, the month of December, "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty," my 4 kids, my 4 shih tsus, Disney Parks history, Imagineering and visiting the parks. I think Walt Disney is the standard against which genius should be measured. I love to write about Disney Parks, Disney history, all things Imagineering and PIXAR. I adore the colors, story and art direction of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (Team Make it Blue!), and "Toy Story" is life (minus "Toy Story 4"). I believe Walt Disney was so much more than an entertainment and theme park tycoon; I believe he was a savant with a vision for life and how it could be if happiness and kindness are strived for. I love Biergarten at EPCOT and 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian. You can find me croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room, chillin' on the PeopleMover or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. I'm always looking for Imagineers in the parks, and I'd rather meet Joe Rohde and Tony Baxter than anyone in Hollywood! Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!