|Diocese Must Pay
$1.5M to Abuse Victim
By Dustin Lemmon
September 19, 2006
A Scott County jury awarded Michl Uhde $1.5 million from the Diocese of Davenport on Monday for sexual abuse he suffered as a child, but Uhde said it’s answers he wants, not cash.
Uhde said he didn’t care if the jury awarded him one cent and hoped his lawsuit would push the diocese to release more information about abusive priests.
“They have done nothing but stonewall us,” Uhde said of the diocese. “It has got to change.”
The amount awarded by the jury doubled the $744,000 that Uhde and his attorneys asked for in their closing arguments Friday.
Before Uhde’s trial, which started Sept. 11, the diocese said it could no longer afford to settle any cases out of court. The diocese said it has reached financial settlements totaling approximately $10 million since 2004 with victims of multiple priests. Uhde’s case was the first to make it to trial.
After Monday’s verdict, the diocese issued a statement saying it will have to consider bankruptcy.
“The corporate board and finance council of the diocese will be meeting soon to make critical decisions about the future of the diocese,” the statement from Deacon David Montgomery read. “The decision of the jury will impact every member of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Davenport.”
According to the statement, the diocese has limited evidence of insurance to pay the judgment because so many years have passed. Montgomery said the diocese will not comment further until its leaders have made their decisions.
Uhde said it wasn’t his intent to bankrupt the diocese. He said he filed suit because he and other victims want to know why the Diocese of Davenport won’t start an investigation by an independent investigator and explain why the church never took action.
“This is about the victims,” he said. “I feel better. Hopefully we’ll get some help for other people.”
The church argued at trial that Uhde filed his lawsuit too late, violating the statute of limitations, but Uhde argued that his post-traumatic stress disorder prevented him from thinking about the abuse he experienced with Monsignor Thomas J. Feeney until the winter of 2005.
Jurors in Uhde’s case agreed that the church was negligent in supervising Feeney, who died in 1981, and that Uhde filed his case in a timely manner. The eight jurors awarded Uhde $1,536,800 for future medical expenses, lost wages, lost function of the mind, and pain and suffering.
The diocese felt it had a strong case even after the verdict.
“The diocese believes that the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the diocese had no knowledge of any abuse perpetrated by Monsignor Thomas Feeney over 40 years ago and that the statute of limitations should apply,” the statement from Montgomery read.
Patrick Noaker, one of Uhde’s attorneys, said the jury’s decision showed the diocese needs to do “less finger pointing” and communicate more with abuse victims.
Noaker became emotional when talking about Uhde’s commitment to the case and helping other victims.
“Kids are safer today because of the courage of Michl Uhde,” Noaker said with a shaky voice, adding Uhde helped “expose the corruption within the diocese.”
At trial, Uhde and his attorneys argued the diocese knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it. They presented testimony from Uhde and his mother, who recalled talking to an associate priest about her son’s physical abuse in 1963. The priest said he couldn’t do anything to help.
Jurors also heard testimony from other victims of Feeney and victims of other priests to further the plaintiff’s contention that the diocese knew of the abuse and did nothing to stop it. Uhde also testified about abuse he suffered while a student at St. Ambrose University that he claims the diocese ignored.
The next trial for the Diocese of Davenport is scheduled to start Oct. 23.
Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Damages awarded to Michl Uhde by a Scott County jury:
Past medical expenses: 0
Future medical expenses: $75,000
Past wage loss: $88,400
Future wage loss: $23,400
Past loss of function of mind: $500,000
Future loss of function of mind: $50,000
Past pain, suffering: $750,000
Future pain, suffering: $50,000
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