Archdiocese Sues Over Coverage For Sexual Abuse Cases

In recent news, the New York Archdiocese has filed a lawsuit against its insurers. The Archdiocese is demanding that it be both legally protected and receive coverage over civil claims brought by future abuse victims under the Child Victims Act, recently passed by the New York Legislature.

Cited in their filing with the Manhattan Supreme Court, the Archdiocese claims that “the insurers […] intend to dispute, limit and/or deny coverage for claims and lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and physical abuse.” The Archdiocese is seeking a declaration by the court that the insurance companies must provide coverage defense to the church against those claims. The Archdiocese has been anticipating increased exposure as new cases are brought in courts under the CVA, which extends the statute of limitations for civil cases of child sex abuse to 55 and creates a temporary window for victims of any age to bring civil litigation. In other words, survivors of child sex abuse can seek prosecution against their abuser until the age of 55 in civil cases, which is a significant increase from the previous limit of age 23. For criminal cases, victims can seek prosecution until they turn 28. The one-year window, which begins in August, will allow victims of any age or time limit can come forward to prosecute.

The Archdiocese claims that the litigation’s impact extends beyond the clergy, and would affect institutions affiliated with the Church like hospitals and schools when insurance companies refuse coverage for claims of child sexual abuse. The lawsuit was prompted by a decision in May from Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America, or INA. In that decision, the INA stated that they had no plans to defend the Church against lawsuits brought by John Michael Norman, a child sex abuse victim, and would not provide coverage for the claims he alleged in his complaint. Mr. Norman alleges that he was sexually abused by two members of the clergy from 1972 to 1974. In his suit, Norman cited claims of negligence against the Archdiocese, claiming that the church “knew and/or reasonably should have known” about the abuse.

The policy the Archdiocese had purchased at the time stipulated that INA has a duty to defend the church “even if the allegations of the suit are groundless, false, or fraudulent.” After providing notice to INA of the lawsuit in April, the Archdiocese received a letter denying coverage from INA two weeks later. INA claimed in its letter that Mr. Norman “alleges to have sustained injury that was expected and/or intended from the standpoint of the archdiocese. These allegations do not give rise to an ‘occurrence’ under the INA policies.”
The Archdiocese, in turn, claims that the language of Mr. Norman’s suit differs from INA’s interpretation, due to the fact that he did not allege that the Archdiocese expected or intended for Mr. Norman to be sexually abused. The Church also argued that the insurance companies ignored the fact that Norman’s suit does not identify who may have known about the alleged abuse, and what information was available to the Archdiocese at the time.

In relation to this, the New York Archdiocese is accused in another suit of either concealing or misrepresenting the sexually abusive histories of two priests. Although the wife of one alleged victim, who committed suicide in 2015, received a settlement in 2017 on behalf of her late husband, the archdiocese vouched for one priest after a San Diego church learned of the accusations against him, saying in a letter to the Diocese of San Diego in December 2018 that the priest had not been the target of sexual abuse claims. The archdiocese is also accused of having received another report of abuse against the second priest in 2014, but it kept the accusations secret and this priest was able to continue working at the church in which the abuse was alleged to have taken place, the suit alleges.

If you or someone you know has been abused by a member of the clergy, please contact the experienced attorneys at Forester Haynie, PLLC.

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