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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Boy Scouts can't escape sexual abuse lawsuit; Attorney hopes clients receive apology and 'a big check'

By Dee Thompson | Sep 14, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – A recent New Jersey court decision paves the way for three individuals who alleged they were sexually abused by a former Boy Scout leader to get their day in court.

In a case of a Boy Scout troop leader who allegedly molested three boys more than 20 years ago, the defendants failed to get the case dismissed despite their claim that the statute of limitations had tolled. The decision was issued July 31 by Bergen County Superior Court Judge John O'Dwyer.

“This is one of the few cases in the country, if not the only case, where a court has found that the sexual abuse which occurred over 20 years ago can be litigated," said Bruce Nagel, the plaintiffs' attorney and partner at Nagel & Rice.

"That’s why it’s a significant opinion. I am very pleased with the ruling. It was the right ruling and it’s important that these cases come to light."

Nagel hopes the ultimate outcome of this and similar cases is trifold.

“I’d like the Boy Scouts, number one, to acknowledge it, two to apologize, and three to write a big check," he said.

The lawsuit of three men, identified by pseudonyms in court papers, was filed in November 2012 against Boy Scouts of America, Sedgefield Civic Association and Patriots’ Path Council Inc.

The men claim they were sexually abused by an assistant troop leader, Stephen Corcoran. They were all members of Troop 173 in Parsippany, New Jersey.

In June, Corcoran was convicted of 10 counts of possessing child pornography and one count of distributing it, according to the Daily Record. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

In cases involving violations of New Jersey's Child Sexual Abuse Act, the statute of limitations runs two years after the abuse occurred. However, exceptions can be made. 

The statute says: “Nothing in this act is intended to preclude the court from finding that the statute of limitations was tolled in a case because of the plaintiff’s mental state, duress by the defendant, or any other equitable grounds. Such a finding shall be made after a plenary hearing.” 

Such a hearing was held July 18-19, and expert testimony by Dr. Dawn Hughes, a psychiatrist, noted that the plaintiffs were in denial about the abuse for years, a factor the court found important to consider.

The defendants argued the case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had run for each plaintiff, but at the plenary hearing they did not present any expert testimony. 

“The defense, in essence, presents a common-man lay approach to the issue and asks the court to ignore not only the testimony of Dr. Hughes, but the body of generally accepted and at the hearing unchallenged medical principles of dissociation, avoidance, suppression and compartmentalization,” O'Dwyer wrote in his decision.

In rendering his opinion, O'Dwyer relied on the testimony of Hughes that the plaintiffs didn’t realize the abuse had caused them problems until long after it occurred. The plaintiffs had difficulty understanding the abuse and caused them psychological issues, he testified.

The court noted, “despite a bevy of psychological conditions, the plaintiffs here were unaware that those conditions were the result of the childhood abuse they experienced."

“The ruling represents a significant step forward in these cases and it finally allows young children who are now adults to get their day in court," Nagel said. "Throughout the country, these cases have been swept under the rug. Finally, we’ll get our day in court."

The next step is a trial, Nagel said. Discovery is almost complete. 

“There have been other Boy Scout claims. I know of at least one other case in New Jersey. I don’t know of any others besides these three that are now pending. Statistically, there have to have been many scouts that were sexually abused because a number of scout leaders have been accused of abuse,” Nagel said.

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New Jersey Superior Court Law Division