Treble Damages in California Clergy Abuse Cases
The California legislature passed a new law in 2019 extending the statute of limitations until December 31, 2022, in ca clergy abuse cases. It was codified as section 340.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure. Section (b)(1)(a) of that statute addresses childhood sexual assault cover-ups. It states as follows: “… a person who is sexually assaulted and proves it was the result of a cover-up may recover up to treble damages against a defendant who is found to have covered up the sexual assault of a minor, unless prohibited by another law.” The statute defines a cover-up as “a concerted effort to hide evidence relating to childhood sexual assault.” Treble damages are a sum equal to three times the total amount of the economic and non-economic damages awarded in trial. The legislative intent behind the treble damages provision was clearly to prevent cover-ups in such cases.
What is Clergy Sex Abuse
Sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or member of the clergy doesn’t only contemplate bodily contact. It might include a wide range of sexually-related activities like taking naked photos of a victim, exposing oneself to a victim or even viewing pornographic materials with a victim.
What About Complicity?
In 2019, Pope Francis announced that any allegations connected with sexual abuse within the church be first reported to church hierarchy. This was purportedly in an effort to protect members of its various congregations. Given its history of continuing to retain repeatedly accused sex offenders in the priesthood, is this directive just another attempt at covering up more disgusting and morally reprehensible criminal activity?
Some Examples of Attempted Cover-Ups
Some members of the church’s hierarchy simply looked the other way when priests committed sexual assaults on children. At other times, accusations were simply put in written reports, but they weren’t followed up on. When accusations were repeated over time, priests were transferred to different churches. Only a handful of offending priests were defrocked, and that was done quietly. Prosecutions were rare occurrences.
Legislative Intent of Section 340.1
It’s extremely unlikely that a priest or member of the clergy will have sufficient resources from which to satisfy a six or seven figure judgment against him. Treble damages operate as motivation for a diocese to keep its flock of priests in order. Rather than looking the other way or availing priests to other potential victims in other churches, six and seven figure verdicts get the attention of a diocese
Thousands of victims on clergy sexual abuse continue to suffer in silence. The California legislature has given them further access to the courts and compensation through section 340.1. This will be the last opportunity for many of them. You’re encouraged to take action by arranging for a consultation with an experienced California clergy sex abuse lawyer. Whatever you say will be held in the strictest of confidence.