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, 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.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Hot Topics
  • 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

  • brown.jpg Boy’s murder case goes to Pennsylvania high court

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court must decide if a Pennsylvania teen should get a new trial in the death of his father’s pregnant fiancée, who was fatally shot with a youth-model shotgun when he was 11.

    March 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Casino.jpg Casino hearing date now official

    May 8 has been confirmed as the public hearing date for Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will hear from those who wish to comment on the casino license under consideration for the racetrack/casino complex planned for Mahoning Township.

    March 12, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Agreement to enhance Austintown track project

    Penn National Gaming announced Monday it has signed a key agreement regarding its Austintown race track and casino. The thoroughbred racing track, part of a facility that will include slots-like gambling machines, is scheduled to open in the fall, and the new agreement with the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is being touted as “positive progress” in meeting that deadline.

    March 11, 2014

  • Vogler.jpg Public hearing for casino could be in spring

    The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board could turn its focus to Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort this spring. Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler, who attended the board’s meeting in Harrisburg this week, said he and staff members informally discussed a timetable for the upcoming public hearing on the gaming application submitted by Endeka Entertainment.

    March 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • brown.jpg Our Opinion: After five years, Jordan Brown case continues — sadly for all

    It’s not unusual for newspapers to look back on major news events when key anniversaries come about. So it was that the New Castle News has been running articles on the fifth anniversary of the 2009 slaying of Kenzie Houk, and the subsequent arrest of Jordan Brown for the crime.

    February 25, 2014 1 Photo 9 Stories

  • Elisco.jpg Jordan Brown Case, Five Years Later: Defense attorney learns ‘to expect the unexpected’

    On the morning of Feb. 21, 2009, attorney Dennis Elisco met a boy who changed his life. Thursday marked the five-year anniversary in the case of 16-year-old Jordan Brown.

    February 24, 2014 1 Photo 8 Stories

  • Jordan Brown Case, Five Years Later: After half a decade, intrigue and questions remain

    Unusual aspects of Jordan Brown’s case drew national and international attention. Now 16, Jordan was 11 when he was charged as an adult with two counts of homicide in the fatal shooting of his father’s pregnant fiancée, Kenzie Marie Houk, 26.

    February 24, 2014

  • BROWN_JordanAndDad.jpg Jordan Brown Case, Five Years Later: Father convinced beyond a doubt of son’s innocence

    The broken-hearted father of Jordan Brown is rebuilding his life while remaining strong for his son. Jordan is charged in the fatal shooting five years ago of his father’s pregnant fiancée, Kenzie Houk. She was killed in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse the couple shared with Jordan, then 11, and her daughters, who were 7 and 4.

    February 22, 2014 1 Photo 7 Stories

House Ads

Beginning tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the NHL playoffs. So, who ya got? And in how many games?

Penguins, in five games or fewer. Too much firepower for the Blue Jackets, especially if Evgeni Malkin is ready to go.
Penguins, in six or seven games. It’s a pretty even matchup on defense, but Pittsburgh will grind it out.
Blue Jackets, in five games or fewer. Sergei Bobrovsky in goal for the Blue Jackets spells trouble for the Pens.
Blue Jackets, in six or seven games. Bobrovsky gives Columbus the edge, but it won’t be easy.
     View Results