(CN) – The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed a $12 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a sexual assault case by a troop’s teen patrol leader.
The seven-member court rendered a split decision Oct. 11, with a majority of the court ordering a new trial based on the Boy Scouts’ claim it was denied a request to instruct jurors on negligence and liability.
Three of the judges also concluded the verdict should be tossed based on their interpretation of the statute of limitations regarding a count of violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, which limits claims of negligence to two years.
Meanwhile, two of the judges agreed an instruction should have been given, but that the error was harmless and the verdict should stand.
The state’s high court rejected claims by the Boy Scouts that the organization had no duty to protect John Doe from the older scout’s actions and that Doe did not present sufficient evidence that the Boy Scouts were responsible for what happened to him.
In 2015, a jury awarded Doe damages of $7 million and a trial judge tacked on $5 million in punitive damages against the Boy Scouts of America. The compensatory damage amount is the largest in the history of cases against the organization.
The sexual assaults occurred over a two-year period beginning the early 1970s when Doe , who was 11 at the time of the first incident, was sexually assaulted multiple times by patrol leader Siegfried Hepp, who 14 years old at the time.
In the 2012 lawsuit, Doe – a member of local Boy Scouts Troop 137 – claimed the Texas-based organization knew of multiple sexual assaults of minors by troop leaders but failed to inform members of the potential for abuse and even “encouraged youth participants to spend time with Boy Scout troop leaders, away from other members of their troops.”
Doe’s said national Boy Scouts leaders failed to protect him despite knowing about incidents of child sexual abuse by leaders, including older Scouts, for at least two decades and doing nothing about the problem.
Doe’s lawyers, Paul Slager and Jennifer Goldstein of Silver Golub & Teitell in Stamford, Connecticut, presented evidence also introduced at similar trials across the nation that Boy Scouts officials kept confidential files with information on alleged pedophiles dating back to the 1920s.
Slager said in an email that he was disappointed in the court’s ruling, but that it didn’t change the facts of the case.
“That trial was important not only for the amount of the award, but for what it revealed about the Boy Scouts of America’s secret accumulation of knowledge about widespread sexual abuse taking place during Boy Scout activities,” Slager said. “The jury said that the Boy Scouts’ response – doing nothing to prevent sexual abuse in scouting for many decades despite being fully aware abuse was taking place – was both negligent and reckless. We look forward to presenting the very same facts to another Connecticut jury under the framework provided today by our Supreme Court.”
In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said it was pleased the Connecticut high court overturned the verdict and said it is reviewing the opinion.
“These incidents from nearly four decades ago run counter to everything for which the BSA stands. Youth protection is of paramount importance to the Boy Scouts of America and our organization has always focused on the best interests of our youth,” the organization said.
“In the nearly 40 years since these events took place we have continued to develop and enhance our efforts to protect youth, regularly consulting with experts from law enforcement, child safety, psychology and other disciplines to ensure our efforts consistently evolve along with the ever-changing awareness of the dangers and challenges facing youth.”
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