Jerry Sandusky has been convicted, and I hope science comes up with a way to keep him alive for the 400+ years’ incarceration to which he will likely be sentenced. Now, the civil suits begin:
Now, attention will turn to compensating the victims.
With $4.6 billion in operating revenue reported for the last fiscal year and an endowment topping $1.8 billion, Penn State is a flush civil litigation target for Sandusky’s victims.
At least one unidentified male has already filed a lawsuit against the university for failing to protect him from Sandusky. He is initially seeking more than $50,000 in damages, the standard amount in Pennsylvania courts to trigger a jury trial.
To hold the school liable, an victim would have to show that Penn State – through its employees – owed the boys a duty of care and that they failed to uphold that duty.
Legal experts said they expect more civil suits to be filed soon against Penn State and media reports have suggested that the total number of victims could be closer to 20. Victims of sexual abuse often wait until a criminal proceeding has concluded to initiate civil litigation.
Following Friday’s verdict, Penn State issued a statement inviting victims to participate in discussions toward a resolution of their claims against the university.
“The university plans to invite victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse to participate in a program to facilitate the resolution of claims against the university arising out of Mr. Sandusky’s conduct,” the statement said.
“The purpose of the program is simple – the university wants to provide a forum where the university can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims’ concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the university.”
Penn State had previously declined to comment for this story.
The situation Penn State faces has drawn comparisons to the sexual abuse allegations that have dogged the Roman Catholic Church and prompted calls for the university to set up a victims’ compensation fund. So far, Penn State has not established such a fund.
It’s impossible to know what the cost to Penn State ultimately might be. There is no formula for damages in sexual abuse cases and there are no caps on damages. Lawyers who specialize in sex abuse cases say damages can vary widely from case to case, depending on the harm done to the victim.
Last week, a jury in Northern California awarded $7 million in compensatory damages and an additional $21 million in punitive damages to a woman who claimed the Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed one of its members to sexually abuse her when she was a child. Lawyers for the plaintiff say they believe the award is the largest ordered in the United States in a religious child abuse case for a single victim.
Another variable that could determine Penn State’s liability is what portion of blame a jury assigns to it. If a verdict is returned in a civil case brought by one of Sandusky’s victims, a jury may be asked to determine how much of a judgment Penn State should be required to pay.
Michael Rosenberg, writing for SI.com, describes some of the many missed opportunities to stop this predator before he could destroy any more lives:
Victim 1’s wrestling coach said he saw Sandusky and the victim “laying together side to side” in a seemingly inappropriate position in the wrestling room. “They were both startled that I came in,” the coach said, but he evidently didn’t think he’d seen enough to do anything.
McQueary testified that he witnessed Sandusky raping a boy — Victim 2, who has still not been identified — in a shower in the Penn State locker room. That may be the single most indefensible part of Penn State’s actions. Nobody even tried to contact the kid’s parents.
In a heartfelt piece in The Washington Post, former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington wrote that he remembered Victim 4 as a child.
“I knew he looked up to me and was a big fan, and I made a point of stopping to talk with him,” Arrington wrote. “I’d ask him the usual questions: ‘How are you?’ ‘How’s school?’ He always seemed mad or kind of distant. I remember distinctly asking him: “Why are you always walking around all mad, like a tough guy?'”
Arrington’s regret is real and his candor is admirable. But surely, dozens of people knew Victim 4 better than Arrington did. They must have seen many more signs than Arrington.
Victim 6 told his mother about an attack, and she told authorities, and this led to Sandusky’s infamous comment: “I wish I could ask for forgiveness … I wish I were dead.” A janitor supposedly saw Sandusky shower with Victim 8.
Victim 9 told his mother that Sandusky was “touchy-feely.” He sometimes said he didn’t want to visit Sandusky, and his mother testified that “I’d just make him go anyways.” His underwear kept disappearing; he said he had accidents and threw them out, and his mother didn’t really buy that, but she convinced herself it must be true.
We can all sit here and loudly proclaim that we would have done more than McQueary, more than Paterno, or more than Schultz, Spanier and Curley. I hope that is true. But most of us probably won’t ever be in McQueary’s position.
We may, however, be in the same spot as these other folks, hearing a snippet here and a detail there, just enough to make us wonder. I hope when that happens, we do more than just wonder. I hope we ask questions and keep asking them. There was so much gruesome testimony and public talk about the body parts of an aging man and young boys in this trial. But it all could have been stopped years ago by one good set of vocal cords.
If you see something, say something.