Child sexual abuse survivors deal with bankruptcy, old evidence after laws extend statute of limitations

USA Today

Although lawsuits like his may provide catharsis, they offer no promise of speedy legal relief.

In some cases, independent corroborating evidence is gone or nonexistent, making it difficult to prove plaintiffs' claims.

The alleged assailants may have died, leaving the accusers to sue the Boy Scouts, religious organizations, schools, foster care providers and other children-focused groups they believe enabled their abusers. That legal strategy requires plaintiffs to prove the organizations had reason to know about the abusers' conduct.

Additionally, the Boy Scouts of America, nearly two dozen Catholic dioceses and three religious orders have filed for bankruptcy protection, which could shield some of their assets and limit how much money victims ultimately receive.

And the statutes that allow some of these lawsuits may not stand.A Catholic diocese in New York is challenging the constitutionality of the law that extended deadlines for survivors of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

"The victim's account is no longer discounted the way it was 20 or 30 years ago," said Michael Pfau, a partner at the Seattle-based Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala Law Firm, which has represented scores of sexual abuse victims.

New York, 15 other states and the District of Columbia in recent years have revived long-expired statutes of limitations that enable victims of childhood abuse to go to court, according to CHILD USA, an organization focused on preventing child abuse and neglect.

Victims who haven't yet sued the scouting organization will be able to file claims that will have the same legal standing as existing claims.

Typically, the claims are assessed by a creditors committee appointed by the bankruptcy court or a trustee. The committee determines how much money is available and how to pay the claims equitably while satisfying the organizations' secured creditors.

"It becomes more of an allocation of assets issue" rather than a typical trial battle in state court, said Jennifer Freeman, a senior counsel at the Marsh Law Firm PLLC, which represents scores of abuse survivors.

A ProPublica database of U.S. Catholic clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct says Ferro was identified in at least two sexual abuse cases that were filed in a Christian Brothers bankruptcy filing. 

"It's mind-boggling to me. This man was reported over and over again," said Vincent Nappo, an attorney at the Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala Law Firm who represents Cardillo.

Records documenting that claim, if they still exist, could help support Cardillo's claim that the high school and the archdiocese should be held responsible.

Sexual abuse survivors and their families marshaled similar arguments in lawsuits against The Rockefeller University, a prominent biomedical research center in New York City.

The lawsuits alleged that Dr. Reginald Archibald, a research endocrinologist who for decades treated children who were small for their age, also sexually abused many of them.

In a 2018 outreach letter, the university alerted former patients that it had learned of credible allegations of sexual abuse against Archibald in 2004.

However, Freeman, the Marsh Law Firm attorney, said its investigators learned Archibald had been the subject of a grand jury investigation for sexual abuse in 1960 and 1961. The investigation, conducted when Archibald worked at the research center, was closed without any indictment, Freeman said.

She said the university should have known about that investigation and conducted its own review. That might have spared other children from abuse, she said.

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Filed Under  Archibald Scandal  Bankruptcy  Catholic Church  Child Victims Act (CVA)  Childhood Sexual Abuse  News  Scouting 

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