Wednesday, December 01, 2010

$30 Million: In Abuse Case, First State Jury Awards Record-Breaking Damages

In a staggering judgment which advocates for victim-survivors of clergy sex-abuse have described as the largest of its kind, earlier today a Delaware jury awarded $30 million in compensatory damages to a man who was abused by a priest in the late 1960s.

However, the mammoth payout likely won't pan out in full -- and perhaps nowhere near it.

For one, unlike cases elsewhere, the judgment was levied against the now-laicized cleric, Francis DeLuca, but with the unusual caveat that $3 million of the award be paid by the parish where the abuse took place. What's more still, the prospect remains of further judgments of punitive damages against DeLuca and St Elizabeth's parish.

That the case came to civil court was a result of a 2006 state law suspending the statute of limitations on civil cases. Opened in 2007, the two-year "window" period saw over 140 claims levied against the diocese of Wilmington -- more than enough to force the 250,000-member First State church into Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last year.

Negotiations toward a global settlement of the cases remain ongoing; the diocese's involvement in the suit decided today was suspended by the bankruptcy filing.

Said to have molested the defendant in the civil-suit more than 100 times from 1966-68, DeLuca was permanently removed from ministry in 1993 when a first allegation was received by the Wilmington church.

While several more victims were subsequently discovered -- nearly a dozen others have filed claims citing abuse by DeLuca -- with his faculties stripped and as the criminal statutes of limitation left no recourse to the authorities, the suspended cleric left Delaware for his hometown of Syracuse.

In 2007, he pled guilty in a New York court to five misdemeanor counts of abusing a pre-teen boy earlier in the decade and was sentenced to 60 days in prison. DeLuca was laicized in August 2008.