Ruling Could Open Door for New Lawsuits in Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

By Amanda Hoskins
Local 21 News
July 22, 2019

More lawsuits against Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania are surmounting.

This time, victims are seeking damage for the dioceses committing fraud and conspiracy.

A new lawsuit being filed against the Harrisburg Diocese could continue to open the flood gates.

It comes after the attorney of a man who claims he is a victim of sexual abuse made significant gains in a similar case against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.

While it lost in the court of common pleas, a June superior court decision reversed the ruling.

In the 2017 case, attorney Richard Serbin argued the church committed fraud, fraudulent concealment and civil conspiracy.

He argued the diocese had the obligation to tell the victim, his client, about the nature of the allegations and the cover-ups surrounding her perpetrator in the diocese. They argued she only learned about it through the grand jury report.

"We did not expect a decision like that to come down this year," Harrisburg-based sexual abuse attorney, Nathaniel Foot, explained. "This Rice decision is the first time a higher court in Pennsylvania acknowledged those claims are potentially viable."

Foot said it has he and other lawyers curious to see how the case plays out.

"There were a number of cases filed many years ago in which our superior court determined those claims were not viable, under some creative theory like those used in the Rice decision," Foot said. "This is basically a complete reversal of that case law."

The judges, in their opinion, said it's up to a jury to decide if the church officials' silence is fraudulent.

Since the decision, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese has appealed, citing past cases. Their attorney asked for a hearing before the full superior court panel of judges.

The court has not responded to that appeal.

It could be up to the Supreme Court if they'll hear the case.

"Plaintiff lawyers are split about how likely they think the decision is to be overturned. It's hard to tell a client to take this risk when we really can't tell them with any certainty how likely this Rice decision is to survive." Foot said.

It's a tough decision for victims, especially here in the Harrisburg Diocese, where victims have until the end of the week to act on their compensation fund offers.








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