Film Director Ordered to Pay $7.5 Million in Civil Damages to Woman Who Accused Him of Rape

Paul Haggis, an Oscar-winning film director, has been found civilly liable to a woman who accused him of rape.  The liability will be at least $7.5 million because the jury also decided that additional punitive damages should be awarded, but the amount is to be decided later.

Punitive damages are awarded in some civil cases with the dual purpose of punishing a defendant’s exceedingly bad behavior and deterring others from repeating that poor behavior in the future.  In New York, punitive damages may be awarded in a jury trial when the negligent behavior is willful and wanton which is demonstrated by egregious behavior that is proven to be intentional.

In this civil case, Haleigh Breest was working as a publicist and met Haggis while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s, said Haggis raped her after a screening afterparty in January 2013.

Following the party, he offered her a lift home and invited her to his New York apartment for a drink.

Breest, 36, said Haggis then subjected her to unwanted advances and ultimately compelled her to perform oral sex and raped her despite her requests to stop.

'I thought I was getting a ride home,' she told jurors. 'I agreed to have a drink. What happened never should have happened. 'And it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with him and his actions.'

Therapist Dr. Catherine Baker-Pitts, who treated Breest from 2017 to 2019, testified that the accuser 'lived in a constant state of fear.'

Four other women also testified that they experienced forceful, unwelcome passes - and in one case, rape - by Haggis in separate encounters going back to 1996. None of the four took legal action.

'The behavior showed me that he was somebody who was never going to stop,' one woman testified, saying that Haggis repeatedly tried to kiss her against her will and even followed her into and out of a taxi to her apartment in Toronto in 2015. 

Unfortunately, Haleigh Breest is not the first nor the last woman to experience such a traumatic violation.  Some aren't aware that in addition to criminal penalties for such actions, our legal system provides severe civil penalties as well.  If you or a loved one have been the victim of such a sexual assault, please contact me for a free and confidential evaluation of your case.