Woman Collects $2.75 Million In Sex Abuse Case

Dawn Andalora v. Joseph Falanga: A woman who as a child was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend was awarded $2.75 million by a state court jury in Willimantic.

Dawn Andalora claims the abuse began 33 years ago, when she was just 7 years old. She said the then-40-year-old boyfriend, Joseph Falanga, would enter her bedroom and molest her. She said the problem worsened over time and lasted until she was about 14. That was when, in 1981, Andalora finally told her biological father that she had been abused. The father went to police and Falanga was charged criminally.

Falanga, now 81, ended up pleading guilty to second-degree sexual assault in 1982 and was sentenced to five years of probation and a three-year suspended prison term, but he never actually served time. Also, given the laws of that time, he wasn't required to register as a sex offender.

Andalora's lawyer, Frank Bartlett Jr. of Bartlett Burns in Cheshire, said the abuse had a tremendous impact on his client. "At an early age she started using alcohol to mask the feelings she was having," said Bartlett.

The Law Tribune and most other media organizations do not normally publish the names of sex abuse victims. However, Andalora did not use a pseudonym in court and her lawyer said she wanted people to hear her story.

Bartlett said Andalora started drinking when she was 10 and eventually moved out to California to live with her biological father. She ran away from his home at one point in an episode requiring police intervention. She was then sent back to Connecticut to live with her mother, and the behavioral issues continued. Bartlett said Andalora also developed eating disorders—specifically, bulimia that morphed into anorexia.

Once back in Connecticut, Andalora ran away again, dropped out of school and got pregnant at age 17. During her pregnancy, she moved back in with her mother. "That was the best time she had with her mother," said Bartlett.

By age 20, Andalora had married. However, her husband was later found brutally murdered in Bridgeport. Bartlett said it appeared the husband was involved in organized crime. After his death, police were also concerned for Andalora's safety. She quickly moved back to California, where she continued drinking and battling her eating disorders. Bartlett said Andalora testified that she developed eating disorders because it was the "only way she could have any control over her body after what Mr. Falanga had done to her."

While in California the second time, Andalora found out that her mother married Falanga.

"She suffered a nervous breakdown when she found out her mother married this man who abused her 14 years after he was convicted of this abuse," said Bartlett. According to the lawyer, Andalora felt as though her mother was "rewarding" the man who abused her.

Even though she had three children, Andalora tried killing herself on three separate occasions. One time she drank a bottle of vodka and turned the car on in the garage in attempt to kill herself with carbon monoxide fumes. But her son, who was around 10 at the time, found her and saved her. Andalora also tried hanging herself and slitting her wrists.

In 2007, she entered an inpatient treatment facility to deal with her depression and eating disorders. The treatment helped until 2009, when her mother became ill with cancer.

Andalora returned to Connecticut for three separate month-long stays to care for her dying mother. While doing so, she was once again staying under the same roof as Falanga.

Bartlett said other than that short relapse, his client has remained healthy. She continues living in California and works for a construction company, providing estimates for jobs.

Bartlett said his client was unaware she had any legal recourse after all these years until her aunt told her about a newspaper article on a sex abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts that Bartlett was handling at the time. "Ms. Andalora, as most people, was unaware that the civil statute of limitations generally gives victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault or sexual exploitation 30 years after they reach age 18 to file a personal injury action based on the crime," said Bartlett.

Andalora filed a lawsuit against Falanga. Settlement talks went nowhere, Bartlett said. The case then went to trial in June before Judge Harry Calmar in Willimantic Superior Court.

Both Andalora and Falanga testified. Bartlett said Falanga admitted only to making out with the young girl on two instances, when she was 14 and 16 years old. Bartlett said this wasn't credible because he was convicted of the crime before she even turned 16.

The trial testimony lasted two full days and then the jury deliberated for two-and-a-half hours before rendering a verdict for the plaintiff for $2.75 million. Specifically, the jury gave Andalora $2.68 million for noneconomic damages and another $70,000 in economic damages.

Bartlett said an award of additional punitive damages would also be entered into by the judge at a future date.

Falanga's lawyer said his client was not pleased. "Obviously, my client's very disappointed," said attorney Vincent Dooley, of Danielson. "He feels that the law giving this woman 30 years [to bring suit] is unfair." Dooley, who declined further comment, said he and his client are still deciding whether to appeal.

Meanwhile, Bartlett and his client are not expecting to collect the full verdict amount from the elderly defendant. However, Bartlett said Falanga owns a large piece of property in Plainfield, and also owned his own electrician's business, so some money will likely be recovered.

"Ms. Andalora is a very brave and remarkable woman who has suffered needlessly through no fault of her own," said Bartlett. "Her heroic actions may help shed light on this horrible crime and possibly provide assistance to others who are continuing to suffer alone the way she has."•

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