Jury sides with woman who sued matchmaking agency over husband's alleged abuse

Friday, November 19th 2004, 9:53 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A federal jury awarded as much as $434,000 to a Ukrainian woman who sued the Internet matchmaking service that set her up with the man who allegedly abused her after they wed.

Nataliya Fox accused Encounters International of fraud and negligence, saying it should have screened its male clients and told her about a law that helps foreign nationals escape abusive relationships without fear of automatic deportation.

Instead, Fox testified, agency owner Natasha Spivack told her to endure the alleged abuse or return to Ukraine.

The agency had said it had no obligation to tell Fox about the so-called battered-spouse waiver because it never recruited her as a client. Spivack testified that Fox made up the story to get a U.S. visa. She said she had only introduced two adults and could not be held responsible for what happened.

Fox, now a civil engineer engaged to someone else, was 27 when she married 34-year-old James Fox in November 1998, less than three months after meeting him through the agency.

In July 2000, she said, her husband started a two-hour beating as she breast-fed their baby. After visiting a hospital, she and the child went to a women's shelter. James Fox flew to Haiti and got a divorce, according to testimony in the civil trial.

James Fox testified he did not beat his wife and described her as ``nutty'' and ``a fruitcake.'' Court records show he was charged criminally in Virginia but had his record expunged after completing a class for batterers. He was not a defendant in the lawsuit because of an earlier settlement, in which Nataliya Fox received $115,000

The lawsuit against Encounters International _ whose Web site boasts 257 married couples, 103 babies and 19 current engagements _ was described as the nation's first to hold an Internet dating service responsible in a relationship that went sour.

The jury awarded monetary damages for specific counts of the lawsuit. Nataliya Fox's lawyers said that they calculated the total award at $434,000. Zukerberg said the total may be lower.

Spivack was ``extremely disappointed'' with Thursday's award and will ask that it be reduced, said her attorney, Paul Zukerberg.