The evening started out innocently enough; Ingrid Lyne, a recently-divorced mother of three embarked on what was meant to be a step into the unfamiliar world of online dating. However, following a series of events almost too gruesome to fathom, the 40-year-old registered nurse was found dead the next morning, dismembered in a recycling bin not far from her home. The sole suspect? The unassuming man she met online just a few weeks earlier.
By all accounts, his was just a garden variety profile on one of the dozens of popular online dating sites. However, as the investigation focused on him and his history, his troubled past became clearer, begging the question: who is to blame here?
Criminal versus civil responsibility
Without question, and without a chance of pre-trial release, the prime suspect will face the full wrath of Washington State’s criminal penal code, assuming he is found guilty of the second degree murder charge he is facing. The culpability does not necessarily stop there, as the victim’s bereaved family may also make a claim under the state’s wrongful death laws, which provide financial compensation to family members of one killed due to the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person.
The victim’s family may also want to explore a cause of action against the online dating site itself, given the alleged perpetrator’s public history of restraining orders, civil abuse, robbery, and DUI. In a growing number of sexual assault and battery cases, victims are pointing to the so-called matchmaking service responsible for placing the parties together in the first place—and decrying the unregulated, hands-off approach many sites rely upon when vetting members.
This area of the law is, as you might suspect, just starting to develop. However, civil settlements are popping up across the nation where partner violence and assaultive conduct take place. For instance, a Chicago-area woman recently procured a confidential settlement after suing Match.com, alleging that the company knowingly allowed a known perpetrator of intimate partner violence to maintain a profile and solicit other users for dates.
More specifically, the victim asserted that the website knew about a prior rape incident between the perpetrator and another Match.com user that occurred two years earlier, yet allowed the perpetrator to continue preying on victims behind the veil of online anonymity. Unnervingly, the litigation resulted in Match.com’s disclosure of 1,200 assault complaints from 2007 through 2009, including 48 reports of “serious rape attempts” and 600 reports of “straight violence.”
Meanwhile, a Georgia-area woman is suing the dating site OKCupid.com, alleging that it set her up with a rapist. The perpetrator met the victim for a first date through the site, and drugged her during dinner. It wasn’t until she awoke disoriented on her own doorstep that she summoned police and submitted to a forensic examination, which revealed severe sexual trauma. The man was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences as a result of the incident, while the victim continues to pursue her claim against the website for knowingly allowing the man to maintain a profile despite high-risk background factors.
Tying it together
Matchmaking is hardly a new concept and, as Avvo’s annual relationship survey shows, about one in four Americans are open to the idea. However, the advent of the Internet has removed—or at least altered—the actual matchmaker, instead relying on algorithms and formulas to match potential mates. While studies reveal that as many as 15 percent of US adults have used dating apps in the past, as many as one-third of users have never actually ventured out on a blind date with the man or woman behind the profile—and perhaps for good reason.
Dating apps are widely unregulated when it comes to cross-checking potential members, and it is not uncommon for users to exaggerate things like education, salary, and physical characteristics. However, the lackadaisical approach to investigating users’ backgrounds could quickly expose these dating sites to significant liability, particularly if (1) the site promises to be safe, and; (2) the site allows convicted criminals (particularly sex offenders) to solicit unsuspecting users for dates.
As the law emerges, and more settlements and lawsuits are made public, greater regulation over the dating game may take shape. For now, however, online daters are encouraged to always meet in a public place, ensure that someone knows where they are at all times, and never leave with an unknown person alone. The old adage still rings true: better safe than sorry.
Image courtesy of nypost.com