A Blockbuster Ruling In Child Abuse Cases
PA Appeals Court: Victims can prove Church concealment to avoid dismissal
By: SPK - the law firm of Swensen & Perer
PITTSBURGH & PHILADELPHIA - June 13, 2019 - PRLog -- In a televised interview on Tuesday, Alan Perer, the plaintiff's attorney, called it "a landmark, blockbuster ruling that affects hundreds, if not thousands of victims of priest abuse... It will open the door for so many victims to seek justice."
The decision, handed down by a three-judge Pennsylvania Superior Court panel on Tuesday, reversed a lower court dismissal of a sexual abuse case against the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The trial court had ruled that the statute of limitations prevented the case from going forward. The appeals court said that was for a jury to decide.
For decades, Pennsylvania courts have been denying child abuse cases against priests on the basis they were filed too late given when the child abuse occurred.
Adults who were sexually abused as children and tried to sue the priests or the Diocese had their cases dismissed, before the cases could go to trial.
Courts consistently said that the statute of limitations prevented the victims from even bringing the lawsuit, much less putting it in front of a jury.
When the Pennsylvania Grand Jury reports on child abuse by clergy were made public, it became clear that the statute of limitations could not be fairly applied in many of these cases.
"Abuse reports were not just hidden," said Perer. "The predators were often protected and sent out again where they could continue to sexually abuse those in their care."
The Grand Jury reports particularly showed that the Dioceses had actively concealed reports of abuse against priests. There were "secret" archives of these complaints across the state, hiding the identity of persistent child predators and evidence that sexual abuse of children was ongoing.
The cover-up was so effective it would have been nearly impossible for any outsider to know that a child was being exposed to sexual predators who could damage them for life. The 2018 Grand Jury report refers to a "code of silence."
Concealment, a cover-up, extends the statute of limitations. It no longer prevents victims from suing if they could not know what the defendants were hiding.
The Court ruled that it was for the jury to decide whether conspiratorial concealment prevented the plaintiff from bringing the suit on time.
"A much needed change of law," said Perer. "I applaud the court's courage and wisdom. Now we can move past a major obstacle to getting justice for people who were so badly betrayed by the priests they deeply trusted."
A PDF of the PA Superior Court's opinion in ruling on the appeal supplied upon request. Call 412-281-1970
RENEE' A. RICE v. DIOCESE OF ALTOONA-JOHNSTOWN, et al, IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (9-11-19) J-A30020-18. No. 97 WDA 2018 Appeal from the Order Entered, December 15, 2017 in the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County
Alan Perer represents the plaintiff in the appeal of this case. Alan Perer is managing partner at SPK-The Law Firm of Swensen & Perer in Pittsburgh, PA. He has represented a large number of victims of sexual abuse by priests. He has over 40 years of experience in civil litigation and representing those who have been seriously injured. Wrongs Righted ®
SPK the law firm of Swensen & Perer