Archdiocese Sues Insurance Companies to Force Coverage
About 50 Insurers Pressed to Defend Catholic Church from 19 Civil Suits on Sexual Abuse

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
April 29, 2004

Faced with civil lawsuits from 19 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse in California and Wisconsin that could cost millions of dollars, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is taking dozens of insurance companies to court.

A lawsuit filed this week in Milwaukee County Circuit Court indicates that none of the companies have been willing to accept responsibility for the costs of legal defense and future settlements or judgments.

It names about 50 American insurers, insurance underwriters and British insurance companies that issued policies to the archdiocese in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Of those, 36 were issued through the Lloyd's of London insurance market.

The archdiocese is trying to get an acknowledgment of coverage before submitting claims for ongoing legal expenses, said David Muth, a Quarles & Brady lawyer who is representing the archdiocese.

No settlements have been made in any of the cases, and none has yet gone to trial, Muth said.

Nine alleged victims of deceased, former priest Siegfried Widera have filed lawsuits in California that name the Milwaukee Archdiocese as a defendant. The door was opened in January for such cases when the California Supreme Court ruled in one of them that the archdiocese could be sued for sending Widera to that state years ago without revealing his prior conviction for molesting a minor.

The archdiocese has appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Muth said.

Katherine Freberg, of Freberg & Associates in Irving, Calif., who is representing some of the California plaintiffs, said in a previous interview that the Milwaukee Archdiocese's liability in the Widera cases "will be significant." She noted that she settled a suit involving a different priest for $5.2 million with the Diocese of Orange County and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in August 2001.

Minneapolis lawyer Jeffrey Anderson filed lawsuits against the archdiocese in Milwaukee County Circuit Court in December 2002 on behalf of five men who said they were sexually abused as youths by the late Father George Nuedling.

Anderson filed lawsuits for five more alleged victims of Nuedling in March 2003. However, Judge Michael Goulee dismissed the first five lawsuits a week later on the grounds they didn't meet the state statute of limitations.

The victims had alleged that Nuedling abused them in the late 1960s and early '70s, when they ranged in age from 9 to 14. That put the legal deadline sometime in the late 1970s.

Anderson consolidated those lawsuits with the five additional lawsuits he had filed only a week before Goulee's ruling and filed an appeal that is pending with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.


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