Boy Scouts of America Chartered Organizations – which includes thousands of American churches – are being given a “prison-free access card” by the latest proposed bankruptcy settlement, according to a law firm appointed to represent the 82,500 men who claim to have been victims of child sexual abuse within the organization.
Within BSA governance, a “charter organization” is a church, school, or civic group that agrees to sponsor, and sometimes host, a Boy Scout troop or Cub pack. Historically, Mormon congregations and United Methodist churches have been among the largest of these chartered organizations, although churches of all kinds are also part of this group.
One of the outstanding questions in the complex legal maneuvers as the BSA seeks to overcome bankruptcy and settle abuse claims is whether these chartered organizations should be held accountable for the abuses that have occurred on their property or under their supervision. Most chartered organizations had been informed that they were protected from liability by insurance provided by the BSA regional councils.
Most chartered organizations had been informed that they were protected from liability by insurance provided by the BSA regional councils.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons, is a key figure in this colony due to its prominent role in sponsoring BSA troops. Although the LDS Church has fully withdrawn from affiliation with the BSA, it still faces potential liability for the thousands of abuse complaints that have occurred over the decades among Mormon-affiliated troops.
In the latest settlement plan presented by the BSA – the fifth of its kind in two years – the Mormon Church offered to settle all current and future Boy Scout-related claims for $ 250 million.
This money would be combined with $ 850 million from 250 local BSA boards, $ 787 million from Hartford Insurance Company and an unknown amount from BSA’s other main insurer, Century Indemnity Co. compensation currently stands at $ 1.887 billion. .
“Worst child sexual abuse case settlement”
But with at least 82,500 alleged victims of abuse awaiting compensation, that breaks down on average by $ 22,000 per claim – an amount the victim group is claiming is significantly less than what should be paid. In reality, the funds available will not be paid evenly but will be allocated by the court based on factors such as the severity and duration of the abuse.
“In a case where half of the abuse includes multiple cases of child penetration and masturbation, payments ranging from $ 10,000 to $ 12,000 do not begin to fairly compensate survivors,” said James Stang, Tort attorney. Claimants’ Committee, the appointed representative tribunal of all victims. “
“This is historic as this is the worst child sexual abuse case settlement in the history of child sexual abuse litigation,” Jason Amala of Pfau Cochran Vertetis told Reuters Amala, a law firm representing over 1,000 scouts who are survivors of abuse.
“This is historic in that this is the worst child sexual abuse case resolution in the history of child sexual abuse litigation.”
Likewise, Reuters quoted Evan Smola, a partner at Hurley McKenna & Mertz, a law firm representing 4,000 victims, as saying that the likely payments to survivors were pale compared to other recent cases of sexual abuse, including l ‘University of Southern California and Michigan State University, which provide payments in six-figure amounts, and sometimes over $ 1 million, per survivor.
“This is, in our view, a re-victimization of our customers,” said Smola.
Divergent views among victims’ advocates
Although the latest settlement plan was approved by the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice, which includes 27 law firms representing 65,000 sexual abuse claimants, the largest group appointed by the court to serve the interests of all victims of abuse, disagrees.
The official panel of BSA Chapter 11 bankruptcy claimants cited “three major flaws” in the plan.
First, local councils have access to a lot more money than they put on the table, including “billions of dollars of money and goods beyond their current needs to fulfill the mission of Scouting”, accused the group. “Local councils should not be allowed to hold onto billions of dollars of money, investments and real estate that far exceed what they need for Scouting while leaving survivors woefully underpaid,” he said. said John Humphrey, Chairman of the Official Liability Claimants Committee. .
Second, chartered organizations “do not pay for the general dissemination of allegations of sexual abuse,” he added. “Chartered organizations receive a ‘jail release card’ in exchange for a transfer of their interest in insurance policies purchased by the BSA.”
“Chartered organizations receive a ‘prison release card’ in exchange for a transfer of their interest in insurance policies purchased by the BSA.”
Third, the group says BSA insurers are only required to pay “a small fraction of the coverage they are contractually required to provide.” Its press release said the BSA “is in the process of making deals with insurance companies that fail to capture the billions in value they have pledged to pay for survivors’ sexual abuse claims.”
Why churches should pay attention
This is the second point that is most relevant for churches that have been BSA chartered organizations.
Approved organizations are essential partners in delivering the Scouting experience. They are also the frontline link between the Scouts and the BSA, although the chartered organizations are independent from the BSA. Particularly if any alleged abuses occur under church supervision or, worse yet, on its property, the church could be held accountable just like the BSA.
Most congregations have their own liability insurance that would cover litigation related to child abuse – whether it happens through a church-run program like a youth camp or through a group. blessed by the church like the Boy Scouts. But even that might not be enough, many church leaders are now warning.
A document released by the Texas Central Conference of the United Methodist Church advises any congregation that has in the past served as a chartered organization with BSA to seek legal advice to protect against claims of scout abuse related to a dispute – whether or not complaints have been filed.
“If your church at any time in its history has been a charter organization for a Boy Scout troop, then there is the potential for that church to be financially responsible for any lawsuits brought against the Boy Scouts of America,” the document states. .
He adds, “If the BSA goes through the bankruptcy process and shuts off the liability for sexual abuse claims, a chartered organization (like a local church) may be the last entity to be potentially liable. “
The BSA website currently states that the General Liability Policy for chartered organizations “does not provide indemnification or defense coverage to people who commit intentional and / or criminal acts. The Boy Scouts of America do not have an insurance policy that provides defense in situations involving allegations of intentional and / or criminal acts.
BSA officials said chartered organizations might have some liability protection for abuse cases that occurred after 1975, due to insurance that began in 1976, but chartered organizations would not. probably not protected for cases that occurred before 1976.
Even the likelihood of chartered organizations such as churches being covered after 1976 is questioned by leaders of several Christian denominations who have advised their congregations to seek legal advice promptly.
“The Boy Scouts are handing out announcements like Halloween candy because chartered organizations are threatening to revoke their future financial support for Boy Scouts and local councils.”
More importantly, the official Committee of Civil Liability Claimants Representing Victims believes that chartered organizations such as churches should be part of the financial settlement, as the second of the three objections above indicates.
“Boy Scouts are handing out communiques like Halloween candy because chartered organizations are threatening to revoke their future financial support for Boy Scouts and local councils,” said Stang, lawyer for the plaintiffs committee. “As a result, chartered organizations don’t pay a dime for childhood sexual abuse under their roof. Instead of holding chartered organizations accountable, survivors are forced to release chartered organizations in exchange for nothing more than an assignment of insurance policies provided and paid for by the BSA. “
Where is the case now
Any settlement granted to victims must be approved by the Chief Bankruptcy Judge of the United States, Laurie Selber Silverstein, who oversees the Delaware BSA Chapter 11 case. The BSA, represented by law firm White & Case, hopes the court will approve the plan by the end of this year.
The latest proposed settlement document is 495 pages long. Given strong objections from the official Asylum Seekers Committee and other victim advocates, no one is predicting whether the fifth plan will be the final plan.
As Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy plan progresses, UMC urges congregations to consider legal liability