Superior Court Reverses Ruling on Abuse Suit
Diocese May Pay $500,000 in Interest

By Phil Ray
Altoona Mirror
April 3, 2008

[with link to the court document]

A man awarded $2.2 million from the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in a child sexual abuse case could receive $500,000 more in interest, the state Superior Court said Wednesday.

The court overturned a Blair County judge's decision to limit the amount of interest paid to Michael Hutchison of Akron, Ohio.

Spokesman Rob Egan said diocesan officials and attorneys would study the decision before announcing what further action to take.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin said the diocese will owe Hutchison about $500,000 if the Superior Court ruling stands. Serbin represented Altoona native Hutchison in his case against the diocese and its lack of supervision of the Rev. Francis Luddy.

Luddy was a local pastor who admitted to sexually abusing several children in the 1980s, but he denied abusing Hutchison, now 39.

In April 1994, a Blair County jury awarded Hutchinson $519,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

As the result of a Supreme Court decision, the diocese paid Hutchison $2.2 million, but the drawn-out case resulted in questions of interested owed to Hutchison.

The diocese argued it should not have to pay interest on the two occasions the punitive damages verdict was set aside in the appeals court.

View court opinion

Blair County Judge Hiram Carpenter agreed, but that decision was reversed Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the Superior Court said interest on a civil court verdict is paid from the time the verdict is returned until the appeals end.

"There is nothing in the statute which states or implies that any period of time following the verdict should be excluded for computation purposes," the opinion states.

Serbin said the diocese can ask for another hearing before a nine-member panel of judges or appeal to the Supreme Court.


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