The Pennsylvania Attorney General has released a grand jury report finding that hundreds of children were abused by at least 50 priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The 147-page report said children were not only molested and raped but destined to suffer long-lasting psychological trauma. It cited a cover-up by bishops, other church superiors and even compliance by area law enforcement officials. (Read The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article)
The grand jury report repeats two refrains in these cases, that church officials covered up the crimes and that because of the passage of many years, the statute of limitations bars pursuing criminal charges. While this may prohibit criminal prosecution, it does not necessarily prevent civil actions against those who have preyed on children and those who covered up the abuse. Often, victims in Pennsylvania can pursue civil claims up until they turn 30 years old. Through the civil justice system victims and their families can seek to hold those who abused them accountable.
The law firm of Kline & Specter, PC, has a long history of advocating for children who have fallen prey to serious sexual abuse or other phsycial abuse. This representation requires diligent investigation and prosecution of claims and navigating the potential minefield of legal obstacles that face victims in the pursuit of justice.
Most recently, in October 2016, Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks won a $5.35 million verdict against Presbyterian Children’s Village for twice placing a young girl in the home of a temporary foster family where she was sexually molested. (Read news article)
Kline & Specter, based in Philadelphia and handling cases across Pennsylvania, is currently pursuing justice on behalf of the family of a boy who alleged he was abused from ages 11 to 14 by a Philadelphia Catholic priest, since removed from priestly duties over previous allegations. Criminal charges were dropped after the victim, Sean McIlmail, years later at the age of 26, died of a heroin overdose. Kline & Specter is continuing to represent Sean’s family in proving the church knew of the priest’s prior offenses but allowed him to continue in ministry and have access to children like Sean.
Another case handled by the law firm, which has more than 40 attorneys, involved Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach at Penn State University who was accused of abusing dozens of boys. Tom Kline, founding partner of Kline & Specter, worked to discover and prove that officials at Penn State had notice of Sandusky’s prior abuse on the college campus and that they failed to act to protect children. Kline obtained the first and a pivotal settlement for one of Sandusky’s victims. The settlement for “Victim No. 5” – his identity was withheld throughout litigation -- was a substantial part of $60 million Penn State agreed to pay to all the victims.
Kline also reached a settlement of up to $3.8 million against a Pennsylvania psychotherapist who abused and photographed his teenage patient. In addition to the monetary compensation, the unlicensed therapist was also forced to make a lengthy public apology and agreed never to practice again. Kline was also able to show that the other providers for whom the perpetrator worked failed to meet their obligations to supervise the offender, resulting in abuse suffered by the young woman.
In yet another case, Shanin Specter represented a 12-year-old boy who was assaulted at a charter school. The case resulted in a $2 million settlement.
In another case, David Inscho represented a young man who was repeatedly abused by his mentor through a local organization. Although criminal prosecution was barred because the events took place years earlier, Inscho was able to investigate the case through the civil justice system and obtain a significant monetary recovery for the victim.
Holding predators accountable in cases of child abuse requires a high level of diligence and experience. While nothing can make up for the suffering endured by abuse victims, in these and other cases handled by Kline & Specter, the abusers faced justice in civil actions and their victims received substantial monetary compensation.