Can a Priest Be Sued?
People who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests have been seeking justice for the better part of this century. Many abuse victims have come forward and received settlements and jury verdicts to pay them for what they have had to live through because of the actions of an abusive priest.
Many people ask us whether they can sue the priest who abused them. While that is a possibility, your best bet is to sue the church itself because they have more money. They are liable for the actions of their employees.
If you are a childhood sexual abuse victim, contact the Catholic church abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers to discuss your case.
Suing Catholic Priests for the Damage They Inflicted
The problem when you go to seek justice from the priest themselves is that many of them are no longer alive because the sexual abuse happened decades ago. If the catholic priest is still alive, they may be elderly and living on a fixed income without the money to pay the victim.
Nonetheless, it may help victims knowing that they have taken action directly against the priest for the sexual assault that they endured. This is always an option that you have to seek justice.
The Perpetrator Can Be Held Responsible for Sexual Abuse
Any person who commits sexual abuse can be sued in a personal injury lawsuit. Even though sexual abuse is an intentional act, it is still a tort just like any other personal injury action. If a person has committed any kind of assault, they can also be found civilly responsible for the abuse, in addition to the criminal charges that they may face.
While you have the ability to sue a priest, it is not always in your financial interests to do so.
Victims Must Meet a Different Standard of Proof in Their Civil Case
It does not matter whether priests are convicted in a criminal case. The law still allows you to recover financially in a civil case regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial.
In a criminal trial, the law is that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the priest committed the crime. This is a very high standard of proof because you are dealing with someone else's freedom. The jury would need to vote unanimously to convict priests of abuse.
The Standard of Proof in a Civil Sexual Abuse Claim
In a civil claim for abuse, you would need to prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. This legal term means that it is more likely than not that your side of the story happened.
Instead of the 100% standard of the criminal case, the victim needs to only prove their civil law claims by something like 51-49%. While this is a lower standard of proof, victims will still need enough evidence to show that they are entitled to financial compensation.
You May Recover From the Deceased Priest's Estate
If a Catholic priest dies and has money in their estate, you may be able to recover from the estate if you already have a judgment against them. You would have to file a lawsuit while the priest was still alive.
If you receive a judgment in your civil lawsuit, you become a creditor when their estate goes to probate. Then, the law states that you would be able to be paid your claim before any of the beneficiaries of the estate could receive money from the priest's will.
Suing the Catholic Church for the Actions of a Priest
While suing the priest is certainly an option, you may be financially better off when you sue the Catholic church for the abuse that the priest committed. Victims of sexual abuse have filed lawsuits against the diocese where the abuse occurred, and many survivors have received settlements and jury verdicts.
Generally speaking, any type of personal injury law will hold an employer responsible for the acts of their employees when they are committed on the job. It does not matter whether the employer failed to supervise the employee. The mere fact that the employee was the agent of the employer is enough grounds for you to file a lawsuit against all the responsible parties, including the diocese.
There are obviously large differences in the amount of assets that a Catholic priest and the Catholic Church have. Priests are employees of their diocese, and they are on a salary. Even if they own their own home (many do not), their residence cannot be used to satisfy a judgment.
The diocese itself has many assets that can be used to pay sexual abuse claims. This can include real estate, cash and investment accounts.
The Church Has Paid Large Settlements
The church has paid several billion dollars in settlements since news of widespread abuse in the Catholic church began to emerge in the early part of this century.
Many church dioceses have set aside global settlement funds to pay for claims as they arise. There have been numerous lawsuits filed as news about abuse by certain priests has come out.
The average settlement in a Catholic sexual abuse lawsuit depends on the facts of the case, the damage that the victim has suffered and the amount of assets that the diocese has to pay lawsuit settlements. In some cases, the individual church diocese has declared bankruptcy to try to protect some of its assets from mass liability.
The Average Abuse Lawsuit Settlement
There have been a wide range of numbers for average lawsuit settlements. Many dioceses enter into a global settlement with all of the plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against them.
Many of these lawsuit settlements have come to an average of around $1 million for each victim. However, some settlements can be for less than that if the diocese has fewer assets.
Cases that have gone to the jury have resulted in verdicts that are even larger. It is important that the defendant actually has the money to pay the jury verdict. A priest would likely not have that money. You could get a judgment, but you likely would not be able to collect it from them over the course of their lifetime.
Compensation in a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
The emotional effects of sexual abuse can be life-altering and stay with you for decades after you have suffered childhood sexual abuse.
Here is what you can recover in a civil lawsuit if you have been the victim of a sexual assault:
- Lost wages if the abuse has kept you from being able to normally work over the course of your adult lifetime
- Pain and suffering for the devastating emotional effects of the sexual abuse
- The cost of medical and psychological care to treat the aftereffects of the abuse
An Attorney Can Help You File a Lawsuit
You have the ability to sue the church for what Catholic priests did to you long ago, so long as you fall within the Illinois statute of limitations. You have twenty years after the time that you turn 18 or after you discovered the abuse to sue the church.
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, we help our clients take legal action against the church. Just because it is a religious institution does not mean that it can get away with hiding abuse. The church can be made to pay just like any other defendant.
Call us today at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation. You do not need to pay us anything unless we help you win your case. You can hold the church accountable.