The family of a developmentally delayed young woman who was raped in July, allegedly by a cable technician, has filed suit against Comcast Corp., its subcontractor and a nationwide security firm, alleging the parties were negligent in checking the employee's background.
The victim's attorney also contacted the Sacramento (Calif.) Metropolitan Cable Commission, asking that regulators conduct hearings into Comcast's hiring practices and its use of labor contractors to hire, train and screen cable installers.
"Comcast, as a holder of a public franchise, can't pass its duty to the public on to a local labor contractor, and pass the buck," said the plaintiff's attorney, James Fox. The public has a right to expect that company representatives sent to the door will not be serial rapists, he added.
The suit arose from an attack on the 19-year-old woman in her neighborhood in Carmichael, a Sacramento suburb, on July 30. The attack was captured on a neighbor's security camera which clearly showed the Comcast ID around the man's neck, Fox said.
Authorities have arrested Luis Saravia, alleging he committed the rape. He is currently awaiting trial. Saravia was an employee of Sacramento-based Links Communications Inc., a Comcast subcontractor.
Links provides field workers for Comcast. The subcontractor hired Kroll Background of America Inc. to vet Saravia, according to the suit.
Fox is trying to determine why the background check failed to alert employers that Saravia has four felony convictions for rape and sexual abuse. According to the civil suit, filed Oct. 15 in Sacramento Superior Court, Saravia was deported to El Salvador after his last jail term in Oregon, but apparently re-entered the country illegally.
Fox said he was easily able to retrieve those Oregon conviction records from the Internet.
Susan Gonzales, Comcast's local spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the suit. She reiterated that the suspect is not a Comcast employee, but that of an independent contractor. The MSO requires all contractors to certify their employees, and "we were provided information by that contractor."
"We're absolutely sick about this," Links Communications attorney Frank Radoslovich said. He said Links relies on a nationally known security firm for its employee checks. Saravia was checked out and the record came back clear, he said.
"I'm not sure what else we could have done," Radoslovich said on behalf of his client.
According to the lawsuit, Comcast has a "non-delegable duty to operate the franchise in a manner to protect and promote the public health, peace, safety and welfare."
"We did a criminal record check, and it lit up like a Christmas tree. This is a very bad guy with a very bad record," Fox said.
The family hopes regulators will make an addendum to the Sacramento license, preventing Comcast from outsourcing background checks, Fox added.
In a letter to all the members of the Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Commission, Fox asked regulators to put the Comcast franchise "on probation." Fox also asked that the commission order Comcast to repeat criminal background checks on current contract employees.
Rich Esposto, executive director of the county commission, said Fox's petition has been forwarded to the county's attorneys for review. Since both criminal and civil trials are pending, it is unlikely there will be immediate action on attorney's petition, Esposto said.
The Sacramento civil suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorney's fees.
In another victimized customer's suit against Comcast, this one in Arkansas, that state's Supreme Court affirms that a company can be held liable for the actions of its "agents," but adds the harm must be "foreseeable."
The Arkansas court on Oct. 23 rejected claims of negligent hiring by a rape and attempted murder victim there. Ceotis Franks, identified in court papers as a Comcast installer, raped then made multiple gruesome attempts to murder the victim in a 1996 attack at her home.
A lower court issued a judgment without a full trial on the facts, stating Franks was not acting within the scope of his employment when he attacked the woman. Comcast could not have known the employee's propensity for violence, the lower court ruled.
The woman appealed and her claims for negligent supervision and retention have been remanded for trial at the lower court.
Comcast southern division spokesman Reg Griffin declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
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