Jury Awards Accuser of Paul Haggis $7.5M

Jury also decides to order filmmaker to pay punitive damages
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2022 1:01 AM CDT
Updated Nov 10, 2022 5:20 PM CST
Paul Haggis Testifies in Sexual Assault Civil Trial
Screenwriter and film director Paul Haggis arrives at court for a sexual assault civil lawsuit in New York on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.   (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
UPDATE Nov 10, 2022 5:20 PM CST

A jury ordered filmmaker Paul Haggis on Thursday to pay at least $7.5 million to a woman who accused him of rape. Haleigh Breest said in a statement that she was grateful that "the jury chose to follow the facts—and believed me," the AP reports. As he left the courthouse in New York, Haggis said he'll "fight to clear my name." The jury, which deliberated for a day, decided to award punitive damages, as well as $7.5 million to compensate for suffering. Jurors return Monday to begin deciding the amount of punitive damages.

Nov 3, 2022 1:01 AM CDT

Paul Haggis took the stand for the first time in his sexual assault civil trial Wednesday, testifying that until the lawsuit was filed against him in 2017, he believed his 2013 sexual encounter with movie publicist Haleigh Breest was consensual. But Breest says the Oscar-winning filmmaker and famous ex-Scientologist raped her at his Manhattan apartment after a movie screening party at which she was working. The two first met around 2010, Haggis testified, and he thought Breest "was adorable," he said, per Deadline. When they saw each other, "We seemed to talk a lot. I was flirting, She seemed to be flirting, and there seemed to be a mutual attraction," he said, per Variety.

Breest, who was 26 at the time of the alleged rape to Haggis' 59, testified that she was not attracted to Haggis ("He was older than my dad") and said she only agreed to have a drink at his apartment because she felt obligated to her boss, a friend of Haggis'. Haggis testified that Breest seemed to be having fun and was acting "playful, cartoony, kind of kitten-y" when she said she'd come over but wouldn't spend the night. But Breest describes an encounter in which Haggis allegedly pinned her by her arms and said, "You’re scared of me aren’t you?" while ripping off her clothes as she struggled and assaulting her, including forcing her to perform oral sex and have sexual intercourse, as she said no.

Haggis, however, testified that Breest "never gave me any indication it was anything other than consensual." He will return to the stand Thursday for cross-examination. Breest's team has called four other women to the stand so far who allege Haggis assaulted them or attempted to between 1996 and 2015. Haggis' ex-wife, meanwhile, has testified on his behalf that he was never violent or forceful with her. "I know of no reputation with him regarding women,” testified Deborah Rennard, who left Scientology alongside Haggis. “He had great relationships with women. I never heard of anything negative." (A separate sexual assault case against Haggis was closed.)

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