April 29, 2005

Clergy Abuse Plaintiffs May Seek Punitive Damages, C.A. Rules

Metropolitan News-Enterprise

By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts

Alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse by members of the clergy, entitled to sue under a law reviving time-barred claims, may seek punitive damages, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.

Ruling as part of a coordination proceeding involving about 1,000 plaintiffs, Div. Eight rejected the argument that allowing punitive damages for claims brought after the original statute of limitations period has expired violates the ex post facto clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

The specific case ruled on yesterday was that of Bob Thatcher, who two weeks ago was awarded $875,000 in compensatory damages and an equal sum in punitive damages for molestation he suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest in the Bay Area city of Antioch in 1980 and 1981.

Jurors found that the Diocese of Oakland failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the abuse. While such claims must normally be brought no later than the plaintiff’s 26th birthday, Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 340.1 gave victims above that age one year, beginning Jan. 1, 2003, to bring suit.

Posted by kshaw at April 29, 2005 05:02 PM