Abuse Lawsuit against Catholic Order Can Seek Punitive Damages

By Valerie Kalfrin
The Tampa Tribune
February 14, 2008

TAMPA - A man suing a former Catholic school regarding sexual abuse he said he suffered can seek punitive damages, a Hillsborough County Circuit Court judge determined.

The man, known in court papers as S.A., was a seventh-grade altar boy at the now-closed Mary Help of Christians School in 1983. In 2005, he filed a lawsuit seeking $5 million in compensatory damages against the school and the Catholic order that operated it, the Salesian Society and the Salesian Society of Florida.

Last week a judge ruled that S.A. and his attorneys also can seek punitive or exemplary damages. These are defined in Barron's Law Dictionary as an "excess enhancement to the injured awarded only in instances of malicious and willful misconduct."

The misconduct alleged in S.A.'s complaint is that the religious order did not contact law enforcement after it learned of the abuse.

The religious order in court papers has denied any knowledge of abuse and any negligence.

A former cleric named in the complaint as S.A.'s abuser, Jorge Acosta, admitted in a sworn deposition last year to having sexual relations with at least three boys at the school. The boys were about 14, and the contact included fondling and "an extended period of French kissing goodnight," according to court papers.

Acosta left the clergy in 1983 and became an actor and drama coach. After the admissions in the deposition became public, he was fired as artistic director of the Galaxy Center for the Arts in St. Petersburg.

No trial date has been set in the case.

Reporter Valerie Kalfrin can be reached at (813) 259-7800 or


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