Court Overturns Jury Award to Man Who Claimed a St. Louis Priest Abused Him
Statute of Limitations Had Expired, Judges Rule

By William C. Lhotka
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 29, 2000

An appellate court on Tuesday reversed a $ 1.2 million jury award to a man who claimed he had repressed the memory of sexual abuse by a St. Louis priest.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals found in favor of Archbishop Justin Rigali as representative of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and against Henry Bachmann, 48, of Port Wentworth, Ga.

In February of last year, a jury in St. Louis Circuit Court awarded Bachmann $ 498,280 in actual damages and $ 498,280 in punitive damages. Jurors gave Bachmann's wife, Blanche, $ 200,000 for damages to the couple's marriage.

Bachmann alleged that the now-retired Rev. James Gummersbach sodomized Bachmann in 1964 when Bachmann was 13 and Gummersbach was assigned to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 3120 Lafayette Avenue.

Gummersbach would call Bachmann to the church basement when no one else was around and assault him, the suit said.

Bachmann claimed he was so traumatized by the mistreatment that he wiped it from his mind until 1992, when a reprimand from his boss in Savannah, Ga., triggered memories of long-ago abuse.

But Senior Judge Robert E. Crist - with Chief Judge Mary Rhodes Russell and Judge Lawrence G. Crahan concurring - said the statute of limitations to sue the archdiocese had expired five years after the assault, or, at most, five years after Bachmann turned 21, which would have been in 1977.

Crist rejected the theory that the deadline should be extended because of claims of a repressed memory.

The judge noted that Bachmann had testified that he went to a park and cried after the attacks.

"He stated that while at the park he placed himself in a trance and supp ressed his memory of the pain and abuse," Crist wrote. "However, his testimony showed that, at the time the acts were perpetrated, he had full knowledge of the events and knew they were wrongful."

In conclusion, Crist said, "We are mindful that, at times, the application of the statute of limitations may appear to produce a potentially unjust result. Yet, the statutes of limitations set by our legislature serve a legitimate purpose. Allowing a plaintiff unlimited time to bring an action increases the potential for spurious claims and decreases the court's or jury's ability to determine the truth."

Bachmann had reached an out-of-court settlement before trial with the retired priest. The amount had been confidential. However, the appellate court noted in its opinion that Bachmann got $ 25,000 from Gummersbach.


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