What Is the Average Settlement for Clergy Abuse Lawsuits?
Recent events over the past decade have resulted in an expansion of the right to sue for child sexual abuse.
Now, victims abused when they were children have a longer period of time to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser and the organization for whom the abuser worked.
The Catholic church has had its reckoning for decades of clergy sex abuse that leadership intentionally overlooked, even in the face of credible reports against Catholic clergy members.
According to published data, most clergy abuse cases settle for $150,000 to $350,000. In some instances, the settlement case is considerably more.
Attorneys for Sexual Abuse Claims
In order for abuse victims to be compensated for the suffering that they have endured at the hands of the Catholic church, they should hire an experienced attorney who is familiar with lawsuits of this type and can handle your claim with the compassion and sensitivity that it deserves.
Contact the law firm of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers to schedule your free initial consultation. Abuse victims need tough legal representation to get justice from the Catholic church.
Abuse Allegations Can Lead to Financial Compensation
The Roman Catholic Church paid billions of dollars in settlements based on allegations of abuse against Catholic clergy members.
Practically every single diocese in the country has faced abuse claims that date back decades after a long pattern of the Church looking the other way in the face of credible evidence of abuse on the part of Catholic priests.
These sex abuse claims have been brought by adults who were disregarded as children when they made abuse allegations or were not able to detail the alleged abuse at the time.
The law has begun to address the alleged injustice done to these children by priests accused. Sexual abuse victims have been given more time to file lawsuits against the Catholic Church.
Damages in a Sexual Abuse Claim
Sexual abuse claims are treated the same as any other personal injury case when it comes to the type of damages that an abuse survivor will receive. You are entitled to be paid for your own damages that you have suffered.
The concept is that the defendant may pay you money to put you in the same position that you were in before you suffered an injury.
Of course, that is extremely difficult to do in a sexual abuse case. Here are some of the elements of damages in sexual abuse claims:
- Cost of treatment- this may include medical or mental health treatment for whatever conditions are associated with the abuse
- Lost wages- some abuse victims are so badly affected that they are unable to work or have been able to do less work than they otherwise could have
- Pain and suffering- the anxiety, depression and trauma associated with the abuse are a large part of sex abuse damages
- Abuse victims can also be paid for the humiliation and embarrassment from the conduct
You can be paid for everything that you have experienced from the sex abuse and all of your future damages. It does not matter if the abuse happened decades ago.
Punitive Damages in a Clergy Abuse Lawsuit
Punitive damages are only available to you if your case goes to a jury. They are a power that a jury has to punish the Catholic Church for its deplorable conduct over the years.
Many cases that have returned a jury verdict have resulted in punitive damages assessed to the defendant diocese.
If your case reaches a settlement agreement, you will not receive punitive damages. Defendants do not pay these on their own without being ordered to by a jury.
Settlements With the Catholic Church
In most cases, the Catholic church realizes that taking the case to a jury verdict would be futile. Many juries have reacted with anger when they hear the evidence about how the Roman Catholic Church allowed sexual abuse to happen.
For example, in one of the first Catholic Church sexual abuse cases to go to trial, a Dallas jury awarded eight altar boys a total of $120 million based on abuse suffered from one clergy member.
Although the diocese negotiated a lower settlement, the average damages per plaintiff were far higher than settled cases.
Factors in a Child Sexual Abuse Settlement
The most important factor in your child sexual abuse settlement is your personal physical injuries. Abuse survivors are paid based on their own damages that they have suffered. Two victims may have suffered differently from the experience that they endured.
Some factors that are considered in an abuse settlement are:
- The nature of the abuse
- The duration
- The victim's age at the time of the abuse
- How the victim's life has been since the abuse
Focus on Your Own Abuse Claim as Opposed to an Average Settlement
Average settlement amounts can be instructive about what you may be able to expect in your clergy abuse case. However, average amounts have a limit to you in terms of their usefulness.
In any personal injury lawsuit, you are entitled to damages based on what you have personally suffered. If you are unable to work for the rest of your life because you suffer from severe PTSD, that could entitle you to a larger settlement.
In addition, if you are a younger plaintiff and must live with the trauma from your abuse for many years, you could be entitled to more money.
Of course, your settlement amount would depend on how much money the diocese has to pay the settlement, assuming that they have already established a settlement fund.
Some Examples of Clergy Abuse Settlements
Here are some examples of global settlements agreed to by certain dioceses and archdioceses:
Los Angeles - In one of the first large global settlements of clergy abuse cases, the archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million to settle roughly 500 claims, leading to an average settlement of around $1.3 million. This was after the archdiocese settled 45 claims for a total of $60 million.
San Diego - In September 2007, the diocese paid approximately $198 million to settle 145 claims of abuse for roughly around the same average settlement as the Los Angeles agreement
Not all settlement agreements exceed seven figures. It all depends on the assets that Catholic dioceses have to pay.
Some Catholic Dioceses End Up in Bankruptcy Court
Some Catholic dioceses have tried to use the bankruptcy court to minimize the financial effects of clergy abuse.
These dioceses recognize that they have large potential liability. Some may be trying to use this process to avoid paying for the full extent of the damages that their clergy members caused to scores of children years ago.
As of November 2021, there were 31 dioceses throughout the United States that sought Chapter 11 protection in bankruptcy court. In these cases, diocese property and assets were used to pay for abuse claims.
However, catholic diocese bankruptcy cases almost always involve clashes over the amount of available assets to pay claims.
Each diocese must set up a settlement fund to pay for existing and future claims. However, dioceses often try to minimize their amount of assets available to pay for such claims.
For example, one of the first dioceses to declare bankruptcy was Portland. The diocese tried to protect parish assets, school assets and trust funds from potential plaintiffs.
Are Clergy Abuse Settlements Taxable?
Considering the settlement values of some clergy sex abuse cases, many abuse survivors ask us whether clergy abuse settlements are taxable. Possible taxes could claim a large amount of the settlement.
The good news is that money recovered by clergy abuse survivors is treated the same as any type of personal injury settlement.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, personal injury settlements and jury awards are not subject to income taxes. The same holds true for state income taxes. This rule even covers lost wages that may have been subject to income tax had the plaintiff been able to work.
The only exception to this rule is punitive damages, which are taxable. However, punitive damages are not part of any settlement agreement. They are only awarded by a jury that wants to punish the defendant.
Some plaintiffs have been able to receive punitive damages from the Catholic Church because of the outrageous nature of their conduct in shielding clergy members and moving them to new postings when they were the subject of abuse claims.
Clergy Abuse Is Not Just Limited to the Catholic Church
Credible reports of abuse are not just coming from the Catholic church. Clergy from other religious denominations have also been accused of sexual abuse.
Just like the Catholic church, their leadership also buried their heads in the sand or protected abusers. You can also sue other denominations to obtain a settlement agreement.
Get Specific Legal Advice for Your Case From an Experienced Attorney
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, we help clergy sex abuse victims obtain financial compensation for the abuse that they endured. Call us at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation.
We provide specific legal advice for abuse survivors for civil lawsuits and claims against settlement funds.
Taking strong legal against the Catholic Church or any other institution responsible for child sex abuse can help prevent future abuse.