June 18, 2021

A woman is suing Gerard Abate, a 67-year-old Palm Coast physician who runs his own medical consultancy, over claims he drugged, raped and exposed her to a sexually transmitted disease after meeting her on a dating site in 2017, according to a suit filed in Flagler County Circuit Court Wednesday.

A potential criminal case against Abate is pending, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office said.

The plaintiff, identified by her initials, M.D. and a current resident of St. Augustine, is represented by Michael Dolce, the Palm Beach Gardens attorney who led the six-year campaign that resulted in the 2010 law repealing the statute of limitation in criminal or civil actions relating to child victims of sexual abuse. Dolce specializes in representing victims of sexual abuse and is currently representing an 11-year-old girl suing the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach and a school in Jupiter over an abuse claim. 

The civil lawsuit alleges six counts, including sexual battery (or rape), battery, aggravated battery, exposing another to a sexually transmissible disease, poisoning and rape by fraud. The suit damages in excess of $30,000.

Dolce in an interview said a “delayed report” was filed with local law enforcement but the case was not pursued. “My appreciation is, law enforcement did not feel they had sufficient information to make the case.”

That report was filed in 2019. It’s not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to file significantly delayed reports, as the law abolishing statutes of limitations involving children recognizes, though an eight-year limitation still applies regarding adults.

They first met for coffee. Abate then invited the woman to his Cinnamon Beach home. The date was on July 22, 2017. During the date, the complaint claims, “Dr. Abate spiked [MD’s] drink while she was in the restroom with some drug that impaired her to the point of blacking out and being only mildly conscious. In that condition, she was unable to exert control over her environment, and unable to control that she was doing or what was done to her. While she was in that condition, Dr. Abate did sexually assault [MD].” (The allegation echoes an ongoing case in criminal court: that of Larry Cavallaro, who was 72 when he was arrested in 2019 on an allegation he’d drugged and raped a woman in January 2018. The case is heading for trial in October.) 

Though the counts against Abate parallel the sort of language found in criminal court, “any time somebody is victimized by a criminal they have a right to pursue a civil remedy for the criminal act,” separate from criminal charges, Dolce said in an interview. “Our goal in civil court is working with basically the same body of evidence.”

While a report was filed and charges not pursued at the time, Dolce said, “In civil court we have a lesser burden of proof.” Dolce made the analogy with the 1994-5 O.J. Simpson cases: the former NFL star was accused of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson, his wife. O.S. Simpson was acquitted of the murder, but soon afterward was sued in civil court, where in 1997 a jury found him liable for the wrongful death and battery of Nicole and ordered to pay $33 million.

In the civil action, the plaintiff has the role of the prosecutor regarding the burden of proof. “I have to prove to the jury that my client’s claims of being sexually assaulted by Dr. Abate are true,” Dolce said. But that burden is lower than in criminal court.

Though the counts against Abate parallel the sort of language found in criminal court, “any time somebody is victimized by a criminal they have a right to pursue a civil remedy for the criminal act,” separate from criminal charges, Dolce said in an interview. “Our goal in civil court is working with basically the same body of evidence.”

In a statement at Dolce’s law firm’s website, Dolce said: “We intend to offer proofs in this litigation that Dr. Abate violated my client first through deception and then through an egregious act of sexual violence, resulting in her becoming severely traumatized and impaired.  We are also prepared to offer proofs of the serious financial, emotional and mental health toll on a woman who was deliberately lied to for Dr. Abate’s selfish purposes.”

If criminal charges against Abate do follow, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent years that civil or administrative action was followed by criminal action.

The complete article can be accessed here.