Insurers Want to Depose Abuse Victims

By Bill Zajac
The Republican
June 15, 2006

Greenfield - Plans by insurance carriers of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield to take depositions from more than 100 alleged victims of clergy abuse has triggered a legal battle.

Seven insurance carriers stated yesterday in Franklin Superior Court that they plan to depose the alleged clergy abuse victims as part of discovery in the suit that was filed against them by the diocese. The diocese filed the suit against insurers one year ago in an attempt to determine what the insurers' financial responsibility is in setting clergy sexual abuse claims.

John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer who has represented several dozen alleged victims with claims against the diocese, vehemently objected to the insurance carriers' plans, calling it heinous.

Stobierski said most of the 109 people who the insurance companies want to depose have no current claims against the diocese and some of them were placed on the list because they reported abuse to the diocese without any intention to pursue any claim against it. Currently about 30 people have claims against the diocese.

Stobierski said he plans to file a motion within 10 days that would make the process more humane, including a written questionnaire instead of traditional deposition and a limit on who is deposed.

Judge John A. Agostini said insurers and the diocese would have until June 30 to respond in writing to Stobierski's motion.

A 61-year-old Springfield man who filed a claim against the diocese but wants his anonymity protected fears the insurance carriers "are trying to out me."

He said he doesn't want his grown children to know he was abused. Meanwhile, he and other alleged victims are distrustful of the insurance companies who filed court documents last year with the names of claimants, including people who had filed suits under pseudonyms. The names were later redacted from public documents.

John P. Graceffa, a lawyer for Travelers Property Casualty Co., told the court he opposes limits on depositions and that credibility of people who filed claims will be explored.

Greenfield native Peter J. Herrick, who filed a suit against the diocese alleging he was sexual abused by several priests who were friendly with his father - a deacon before his death - said concern for victims have become insignificant amid an entangled legal mess.

"I am resolute in pursuing this to the end," said Herrick, who drove from his home in Maine to yesterday's 35-minute proceeding.

Fifteen lawyers representing interests in the case attended the proceeding.

Two years ago, the diocese settled 46 claims for $7.7 million, which the diocese paid out of its coffers. It hopes to replace that money through its suit against insurers. It also hopes to pay current claimants with insurance money.

Besides Travelers, diocesan insurance carriers during the alleged abuse were: North Star Reinsurance Corp.; Underwriters at Lloyd's, London; Centennial Insurance Co.; Interstate Fire & Casualty Co. and Colonial Penn Insurance Co.

Also, state-operated Massachusetts Insurance Insolvency Fund, which covers partial liabilities of insolvent insurance companies, is also a defendant in the case. It will be covering liability for Home Insurance Co., the former diocesan insurer that became insolvent several years ago.


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