Penn State Settles First Sandusky Molestation Suits
Eight molestation victims of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky have reached settlements with the university, including Sandusky’s own adopted son. More agreements are expected to be announced soon.
The first plaintiff to agree to a settlement, called Victim 5 during Sandusky’s criminal trial, was assaulted by the disgraced coach in 2001 and announced a settlement early last week.
The financial terms of the settlement are undisclosed, but the university has budgeted $60 million in total. Seven other victims, including Sandusky’s adopted son, subsequently finalized their settlements. There are at least 30 claims in total, and of those still unsettled 17 have reportedly come to tentative agreements.
Sandusky was convicted last year of committing sexual abuse against 10 children over 15 years and is currently serving a 30 to 60 year prison sentence.
The amount of money each victim will receive from the university is expected to depend on the date of the abuse. Allegations against Sandusky were brought to various authorities in 1998 and again in 2001, but no action was taken against him and he continued to assault children on the Penn State campus. Victims who were abused after the incident in 2001 are expected to receive the largest payouts because the university could have acted to stop Sandusky but failed to do so.
Three high-ranking former officials are now facing criminal charges for not reporting to police eyewitness testimony from another coach of Sandusky raping a child in the football facility’s showers.
“It’s what did Penn State know and what duty did they have?” Michael Rozen, one of the school’s attorneys, told the AP. “What did they know, when did they know it, and what duty – if any – did they have to act, and to what extent?”
A Traumatic Thing
Sandusky’s criminal conviction leaves no doubt that he perpetrated the crimes he is accused of, and the extraordinary publicity in the case gives Penn State a large incentive to settle with the victims and avoid litigation.
Personal injury lawsuits over childhood abuse in general can be difficult to bring successfully, however, due to a number of factors among them statutory hurdles as well as trying to prove a crime that may have occurred years in the past.
“The big issue in bringing a case, and this is true for every state, is whether the claim falls within the statute of limitations,” says Paul Mones, an Oregon-based attorney who has litigated numerous child sexual abuse cases, including the landmark trial against the Boy Scouts of America which resulted in the release of the groups “perversion files” of sexual predators.
Specific limits for civil suits vary but typically might extend a certain number of years past the victim’s 18th birthday.
If a victim is within the statute and gets a trial, the task is then to convince the jury not just that the abuse occurred but of the terrible nature of the damage that it caused.
“They have to be able to relate to the jury what happened and also how it affected them,” Mones says. “Another issue tends to be getting an expert on the stand to talk about the trauma of abuse in a way that can be clearly explained to the jury.”
Preparing and going forward for trial can be complicated by the aftermath of the abuse. “A lawyer that’s doing these cases also needs to have a very solid grounding in the various psychological issues that affect their clients,” the attorney explains. “One of the problems in recounting abuse incidents in front of a jury is that it’s a very traumatic thing. Then they have to be cross examined — that’s a big obstacle in these cases.”
For a suit to be successful against an institution like Penn State, the plaintiff has to show that it had notice and knew or should have known about the abuse yet failed to stop it — hence the tiered payouts to Sandusky’s victims depending on when he attacked them.