New Castle News

Hot Topics

July 17, 2012

Penn State could face years of litigation

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State University could face years of litigation over Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children, but the school is also doing some things that may limit the damage, according to lawyers with experience in such cases.

The 267-page report released last week by former FBI Director Louis Freeh provides extensive leads for victims’ lawyers, said Richard Serbin, an Altoona attorney who has handled more than 150 sexual abuse cases over the last 25 years.

But the very fact the school supported and paid for such a hard-hitting report could help convince the victims that Penn State has changed its ways, said Max Kennerly, a Philadelphia attorney who thinks settlements could range from $1 million to $10 million per victim.

Kennerly said the biggest trial verdicts often come when a company or institution refuses to accept responsibility for past actions. He said that while the Freeh report raises serious questions about the behavior of past administrators, the school has been much more proactive since Sandusky was indicted.

“I think that’s a tremendously important factor,” Kennerly said.

But Kennerly said suggestions that Penn State could face costs of more than $100 million seem exaggerated, since there’s a good deal of information on how much the Catholic Church has paid to settle more than 5,000 abuse claims.

According to BishopAccountability.com, which tracks the scandal, the most any single victim has gotten is $3.4 million, and only about 50 people have received more than $1 million. The largest single case, in Los Angeles, paid 508 victims an average of $780,000 each, and in some cases victims received as little as $27,000 each.

But Kennerly said the possibility of punitive damages is the “wild card” in the Sandusky case, which in the worst possible view suggests “four separate employees of Penn State who are intentionally covering up child abuse.”

Serbin said that in one early church abuse lawsuit that he started in 1987, a jury ultimately found that church leaders had a greater degree of fault than the priest “who had been molesting kids for 19 years.”

“The reason is those people had an opportunity to stop the predator,” he said of church leaders, just as the Penn state administrators did.

Serbin added that the school doesn’t have a full picture yet of the total number of victims who might sue, so it’s hard to guess at total liability.

Moody’s, the credit firm, said last week that it hasn’t changed Penn State’s rating, but has added a negative long-term outlook because of uncertainty over abuse lawsuits.

“We expect that the university will likely be able to absorb the impact of the civil suits and settlement of the known claims in the near-term, given its still strong market demand, positive cash flow and financial resources exceeding $5 billion,” Moody’s said in a statement. “However, with the release of the Freeh report and its harsh criticism of both the board of trustees and senior leadership, Penn State faces greater uncertainty regarding the emergence of both future legal actions and financial claims against the university.”

Penn State currently faces three civil suits filed by victims’ attorneys.

Trustee Ira Lubert said Friday the university’s lawyers plan to reach out to plaintiffs’ lawyers to discuss settlements.

The school’s primary general liability insurer, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co., has sued Penn State over PMA’s responsibility to cover potential damages from one of the claims. Penn State has countersued.

PMA spokeswoman Diane Nafranowicz had no comment Monday.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Hot Topics
  • Our Opinion: New study suggests problem with some state shale gas wells

    A recent study of leaks from shale gas wells raises more questions than it answers. And because of the growing presence of shale gas wells in Pennsylvania, it’s essential that both government and industry provide clarity.

    July 9, 2014

  • 08.jpg Gaming board asked to take a chance here

    Lawrence County deserves a chance, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was Thursday. All seven board members, their staff, hearing officer Linda Lloyd and 200 to 225 others attended the board’s public hearing at the Mahoning Township Community Center.

    May 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Casino.jpg Area residents, groups to speak at casino hearing

    Some 55 individuals and organizations have registered to speak tomorrow at the Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort Public Input Hearing. The list was released yesterday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Board, which will conduct the hearing at 10 a.m. at the Community Center in Mahoning Township on Route 224.

    May 7, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Austintown racing complex anticipates fall opening

    Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course will open in the fall. No specific date has been set, but work is progressing on several fronts on 186 acres in Austintown, Ohio. The site — less than 30 miles from New Castle — is accessible from Ohio Routes 46 and 11 and Interstate 80.

    May 7, 2014

  • gavel.jpg Holdout property owners file for injunction

    Holdout landowners are asking Commonwealth Court to declare that forced pooling violates the state constitution.

    May 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • gavel.jpg Holdout landowners retain Pittsburgh attorney; ask hearings be postponed

    A Pittsburgh attorney is asking that next month’s hearings on forced pooling be postponed. Atty. Omar Abuhejleh also filed a motion with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Friday allowing the affected landowners to formally intervene in the case filed by Hilcorp Energy Co.

    April 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dangers of fracking the topic at Villa Maria

    Public health concerns about fracking must be addressed, a nurse practitioner told approximately 150 people at Villa Maria on Thursday.

    April 26, 2014

  • Bobosky.jpg Gas holdouts unconvinced of safety

    When Suzanne Matteo and her husband, Martin, bought their house on four acres in Pulaski Township they had a plan. They would grow a huge vegetable garden, raise lots of flowers and a few chickens and enjoy the fresh air and quiet.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • gavel.jpg Anti fracking group waits for answer to its letter

    More than 20 state environmental groups are asking that March 25 and 26 hearings on proposed “forced pooling” be postponed. They say more time is necessary to allow members of the public to voice their opinions.
     

    March 18, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • Hilcorp_Energy.jpg Hilcorp seeks to force drilling on reluctant landowners

    A hearing has been set on a request to force local landowners to allow gas and oil drilling. Hilcorp Corp., a Texas firm with multiple well pads in the area, is asking for the so-called “forced pooling.”

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Poll

Do you talk to yourself when you're alone?

Yes, but I’m basically just thinking out loud.
No, that would be weird.
I don’t know. Next time I’m alone, I’ll ask.
     View Results