Camp Cass rape victim loses challenge

The state's top court, in a 6-to-1 decision, affirmed an appellate division ruling that workers' compensation benefits paid to a rape victim from Rensselaerville could be credited by the State Insurance Fund against settlement money she received from a separate lawsuit. 

ALBANY — A woman raped and kidnapped by a juvenile detention center inmate in Rensselaerville cannot collect both workers’ compensation benefits and settlement money from a civil rights lawsuit for the same injuries, the state’s Court of Appeals affirmed, 6 to 1, on Nov. 19.

Judge Jenny Rivera dissented, arguing that the hostile work environment and gender discrimination included in the lawsuit against her employer, the state Office of Children and Family Services, were separate from the injuries covered by workers’ compensation.

The victim’s lawyer testified for a Workers’ Compensation Law judge that the $650,000 settlement was mainly for the violation of her right to due process as a youth-division aid. She netted about $430,000 after attorneys’ fees and other expenses.

The victim, referred to in court papers as Beth V., sued for constitutional deprivations, human rights violations, and personal injuries, after being raped at knifepoint, beaten, and kidnapped by the 17-year-old inmate in December 2004. The settlement was made, though, for her personal injuries, for which she wouldn’t pay income taxes.

 “The settlement may have been structured as it was solely to afford Beth V. a presumed tax advantage, but the Board was certainly entitled to rely on the stipulation’s unambiguous terms,” Judge Susan Phillips Read wrote of the Workers’ Compensation Board in the majority’s opinion.

The State Insurance Fund had waived its right under Workers’ Compensation Law to be credited for past payments, but it can halt future payments up to $430,000 of the settlement money.

The fund is the workers’ compensation insurance carrier for the Office of Children and Family Services, the state agency that ran the Camp Cass Residential Center and the victim’s employer. Beth V. named the agency and three co-workers as defendants in the federal lawsuit in 2007. The detention center has since been closed and the facility is used to train conservation officers.

The Workers’ Compensation Law judge ruled in 2008 that the victim is permanently partially disabled from work-related injuries to her back, head, neck, left hand, right foot, lower back, and teeth, as well as the rape, causing post-traumatic stress.

The inmate, Michael Elston, was admitted to the Camp Cass Residential Center in November 2004 for violation of probation and possession of stolen property.

The following month, Elston forcibly raped, choked, and punched the victim, then 51, at knifepoint with no co-workers around as she was ending her workday. He then forced her into her Jeep and drove to Albany.

James Buckley, the victim’s attorney, argued before the judges on Oct. 17 that the victim’s lawsuit was for a “continuing wrong,” that she had complained about Elston before the rape, but “nothing was done.”

“He was making suggestive comments, harassing her,” Buckley told The Enterprise after arguments.

In the opinion, Read wrote that the victim took a notebook away from Elston five days before the rape, claiming he was writing about her “of a sexual nature” and making crude gestures; she gave the notebook to a co-worker on duty and told supervisors she felt “unsafe, uncomfortable and fearful of physical and sexual harm” from Elston.

After kidnapping her with a kitchen knife, Elston ordered the victim to stop the car so he could use a payphone in Albany. She kicked him away and escaped by driving off.

Elston was arrested on Dec. 29, 2004, and sentenced on July 21, 2005, for first-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping, both felonies. He received seven years in prison for kidnapping, and 20 years for rape, with 10 years of post-release supervision.

The victim was awarded $155.54 in weekly workers’ compensation benefits for her work-related physical injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and rape.

The state’s Workers’ Compensation Board ruled in 2010 that the State Insurance Fund could claim future benefits paid to the victim for the $430,000 settlement of the federal suit.

As a result, the victim has no medical insurance through her workers’ compensation benefits, according to Buckley.

“That $155 a week is not as important as her medical that she has to pay by herself out of the settlement,” Buckley told The Enterprise.

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