Earlier this week, a jury in Oregon awarded $1.4 million to a man who was sexually abused by a Scoutmaster over 25 years ago. According to the victim, the Boy Scouts of America negligently allowed the Scoutmaster to remain affiliated with the organization despite the Scoutmaster’s admission in 1983 that he molested over a dozen young boys. The Boy Scouts of America now faces a separate phase of the trial in which they could be found liable for up to $25 million in punitive damages.
During their deliberations, the jury was allowed to look through the Boy Scouts’ so-called “perversion files,” which are said to contain information about alleged child molesters in the Scouts organization. The Boy Scouts fought to keep those records confidential, but were ultimately required to release that information following a decision by the Oregon Supreme Court in February.
The Oregon Boy Scouts case has many similarities to the widely reported allegations of the sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic clergy. The “pedophile priest” cases have attracted global attention, with incidents arising in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, Germany, and elsewhere. One of the main issues in dispute is what, and when, the Vatican knew about the alleged abuses.
The success of the plaintiff in the Oregon case is, unfortunately, an aberration. Due to strict statutes of limitations in many states, a large number of people who were victims of sexual abuse decades ago will be unable to pursue legal recourse. In many cases, the victims have repressed memories of the trauma they endured as children, or are otherwise unaware that the conduct they have experienced constitutes a legal cause of action. Many states, including Michigan, do not recognize these conditions as any exception to the standard statute of limitation. As a result, very few adults who discover later in life that they were sexually abused as children can receive their day in court. This is true even when the perpetrator admits the abusive conduct.
Sexual abuse of minors is a terrible and insidious act. It is time for victims to have the opportunity to seek justice and fair compensation from our legal system. Restrictive statutes of limitations, along with narrow interpretations rendered by the courts, add insult to these horrible injuries. If you feel that it is time for a change, contact your state representative and senators.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.