Friday, April 23, 2010
Do you remember the lawsuit where McDonalds corporation was hit with a really large judgment when the woman spilled her hot McDonalds' coffee in her lap? It was a claim that could have been contained or handled without litigation, but arrogance and a lack of an ethical culture of accountability caused the jury to punish McDonalds and their attorneys (who were reportedly horribly arrogant in front of the jury with their cross exam of the plaintiff). Without having heard the testimony, I am speculating that a similar situaton happened with the man who sued the Boy Scouts of America (a huge organization with good lawyers). It was reported by the judge that no one with the Boy Scout's corporation had even attempted to apologize for the sexual abuse of seventeen boys by the same Boy Scouts assistant troup leader. The Boy Scouts of America was aware that the assistant troup leader had prior sexual abuse incidents in his past, but allowed him to accompany the plaintiff on the campout.
There's no doubt that there are wonderful Boy Scout troups all over the country. However, the corporation itself could probably take a lesson from some of them in taking accountability and respect. Imagine, if you will, for a second that your son was injured at a campout, and you told the company, and they came to your home to tell you how sorry they were, and even offered to pay for counseling or medical care, and perhaps some other cash for your troubles. It is highly likely the settlement would have been less than the $18M judgment. More importantly, headline news about the long history of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts organization would have been avoided. The actual public relations cost and damage to the organization of this judgment is far in excess of the jury's punative number.
Like McDonalds, the jury is sending a message of accountability and respect. Smart corporations will anticipate the need for a program in their organization to take control of this sort of situation and find genuine remorse for individuals who are harmed or believe that they are. The full story of the historically large judgment follows.
PORTLAND, Ore. - A jury on Friday ordered the Boy Scouts of America to pay $18.5 million to a man sexually abused by a former assistant Scoutmaster in what is believed to be the largest such award against the organization.
Lawyers for Kerry Lewis had asked the jury to award at least $25 million to punish the Boy Scouts for what the jury had already agreed in the first phase of the trial was reckless and outrageous conduct.
They also noted the Boy Scouts had never apologized to Lewis, who said Friday at a news conference that the verdict shows that "big corporations can't be above the law."
Lewis added that an apology "would mean something to me, but I'm not expecting it."
The jury decided on April 13 that the Boy Scouts were negligent for allowing former assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes to associate with Scouts, including Lewis, after Dykes admitted to a Scouts official in 1983 that he had molested 17 boys.
The jury awarded Lewis $1.4 million in compensatory damages with that verdict and agreed the Boy Scouts of America were liable for punitive damages to be determined in the second phase of the trial that ended Thursday.
Boy Scouts officials declined to comment on details of the case because other cases are pending, but issued a statement saying it maintains a "rigorous" system to screen Scout leaders.
"The Boy Scouts of America has always stood against child abuse of any kind," it said.
The case was the first of six filed against the Boy Scouts in the same court in Oregon, with at least one other separate case pending. If mediation fails to settle the next cases, they also could go to trial.
The amount of the damages surprised Patrick Boyle, editor of the Youth Today newspaper and author of a book about sex abuse within the Scouts.
"That's a lot of money. This is by far the biggest award against the Scouts for sex abuse, probably by several times," Boyle said.
The award is also significant, he said, because it is only against the national Boy Scouts organization and is not divided among any of its local councils or other defendants.
Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, the attorneys for Lewis, told the jury the Boy Scouts were nearly a $1 billion corporation that could well afford punitive damages intended to deter them from similar conduct in the future.
Clark and Mones said Friday after the verdict that publicity about the case also could act as a deterrent.
"They've always settled. And they're silent. No one hears because it does not see the light of day," Mones said. "What we saw here in Portland really pulled back the covers on the Boy Scouts of America, and what it did to cover up."
During the first phase of the trial, Clark and Mones introduced more than 1,000 files the Scouts kept on suspected child molesters from 1965-85 as evidence the organization should have put a sex abuse prevention program into place decades ago.
The Scouts executive now in charge of those files admitted they had never been evaluated or analyzed to help design or determine the effectiveness of a prevention program that is now in place.
A number of witnesses testified for the Scouts during the second phase of the trial that they participated in a training and prevention program since at least the late 1980s. None could say why the Scouts had not yet made the "youth protection training" program mandatory.
Under Oregon law, 60 percent of the punitive damages awarded by the jury will go to the state crime victim compensation fund.
Because the Boy Scouts have settled some lawsuits out of court, it is difficult to say where the total awards imposed by the Portland jury rank with those of the past.
In a 1987 sex abuse case, an Oregon jury awarded more than $4 million to the victim, including $2 million in punitive damages against the Scouts that were thrown out when the case was appealed. A jury in San Bernardino, Calif., awarded $3.75 million to three sex abuse victims in 1991.
Boyle said from 1984 through 1992, the Scouts were sued at least 60 times for alleged sex abuse with settlements and judgments totaling more than $16 million.