Orphanage Abuse Lawsuit Dismissed

Associated Press State & Local Wire
August 29, 1998

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against three institutions in which a woman says she was sexually abused while a child at a now-defunct orphanage.

U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha dismissed a civil suit brought by Donna Savard, a former resident of the St. Joseph's Orphanage. Savard, who lives in Florida, sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont Catholic Charities and Sisters of Providence.

Murtha said in his ruling on Thursday that none of them could be held responsible for the alleged abuse.

"These organizations cannot be held liable for sexual abuse absent evidence which suggests that they knew or should have known of ... sexually abusive activities," the judge wrote.

Savard lived at the orphanage from September 1958 to May 1964 and, according to her affidavit, she was repeatedly sexually abused by Sister Claire, who is now dead.

She testified to a long list of other abuses, including having her legs held against hot steam pipes, being beaten with paddles and having hot knives placed on her back and arms.

"Both I and my client are exceedingly happy with the ruling and we think it is correct and accurate. The most recent ruling states in essence that my client can't be held responsible for the acts of the Sister of Providence being accused," John Gravel, lawyer for the Vermont Catholic Charities, said. He added that his client denies the abuse happened in the first place.

Earlier in the week Murtha ruled that the statue of limitations had run out for Savard's claims of non-sexual abuse, Savard's lawyer, John Evers, said. Evers said his client has not decided whether to appeal.

The decision is "not one that we are obviously very happy with, but we realized this was a possibility and we'll decide what to do next," Evers said.

Savard's case is one of 24 brought by former residents who have claimed they were abused while at the orphanage.


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