Connecticut court upholds $1M verdict in priest abuse case

Associated Press/June 26, 2015

By Dave Collins

Hartford, Connecticut -- The Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday confirmed a $1 million jury verdict in a priest sexual abuse case against the Archdiocese of Hartford and upheld a 2002 state law that expanded the statute of limitations for bringing sex abuse claims.

The unanimous ruling came in the case of a man known in court documents as Jacob Doe, who sued the archdiocese in 2008 saying he was sexually abused when he was a student at the St. Mary’s school in Derby by the Rev. Ivan Ferguson about 20 times from 1981 to 1983 beginning when he was 13.

A jury in Waterbury Superior Court determined in 2012 that the archdiocese was reckless and negligent in letting Ferguson work with children again in 1981 at St. Mary’s after he had received treatment for abusing other boys.

The Supreme Court rejected all the archdiocese’s arguments on appeal, including that there was insufficient evidence of negligence and recklessness and that the retroactive application of the 2002 state law that expanded the statute of limitations for such cases violated due process rights.

In 2002, the same year Ferguson died, the legislature extended the statute of limitation on sex assault cases to 30 years from when a complainant reaches 18. The law was made retroactive.

Thomas McNamara, a New Haven attorney representing Doe, criticized archdiocese officials for challenging the 2002 state law.

“They … thereby attempted to deny justice to not just victims of clergy sexual abuse but to any victim of sexual abuse when the abuse occurred during one’s minor years,” he said. “Justice prevailed and shame on them.”

The archdiocese released a statement Friday saying the case had to do with “legal issues and matters of justice.”

“The court’s decision will make it extremely difficult for a person or entity to defend itself against very old claims after people familiar with the claims are dead and pertinent records have been destroyed under a facility’s file retention program,” the statement said. “A non-negligent defendant in that situation is at a great disadvantage and is vulnerable to an adverse jury verdict.”

While many states have rejected retroactive application of such laws, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the retroactive application, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese said it remains firmly committed to the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that was implemented in 2002 and designed to prevent childhood sexual abuse from occurring.
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