Willful Negligence? A Look At One Southern Baptist Church’s Handling Of Alleged Child Sexual Abuse

In what is perhaps the most high-profile current lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, a woman (who we will refer to as Jane Doe) alleges that she was sexually abused as a child by a pastor of the Village Church based in Flower Mound, Texas, and is currently suing the church for more than $1 million in damages. Her suit also alleging gross negligence on the part of the SBC.

The suit alleges that the church was “willfully negligent” in its failure to protect a child in its care from being sexually assaulted. It also states that the church is liable for the actions of the pastor, who was removed from the staff last year. Ms. Doe is seeking damages after she says the abuse caused emotional distress, including an ongoing struggle with depression.

Matthew Tonne, the former children’s minister, was indicted by a grand jury in November and arrested in January on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Bragg’s daughter in 2012 when she was only 11 years old. Mr. Tonne, whose lawyer has said his client had been falsely accused, faces a forthcoming criminal trial.

The family of Jane Doe has said the Village has failed to provide them with sufficient answers and support since they told church leaders about the abuse in February 2018. The Village has “not yet to date demonstrated a good faith desire to resolve this,” said Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer representing Ms. Doe, who is now 18. “We have provided ample opportunity and ample time for that. We have hit a brick wall, and at that point in time we had to make the difficult but necessary decision to press forward to filing the lawsuit.”

The suit states Mr. Tonne was able to access and abuse the plaintiff at a Village summer camp for children because her cabin was also the location for some adult staff meetings. Both male and female adults were present at these meetings, in violation of the church’s own policies about people of the opposite sex in children’s cabins, the suit states. On the night of the alleged assault, the suit states that Mr. Tonne met with other adults right outside Ms. Doe’s room, giving him the opportunity to enter her room and sexually violate her. The suit also alleges that the church was not forthcoming to Ms. Doe and the congregation about the reason Mr. Tonne was removed from its staff last year.

The Village has stated repeatedly that Mr. Tonne was removed for alcohol abuse, rather than because of the criminal investigation into whether he had sexually abused a child. When church officials decided to remove him, Mr. Chandler told congregants last month, “we had not been informed that he was the accused.” However, the lawsuit states that the Braggs had told a Village staff member by then that Mr. Tonne was a suspect.

The suit alleges that the church has not taken “independent efforts to ascertain whether Tonne abused any other children under its care and supervision.” The Village has not stated publicly if it has conducted an independent investigation.

When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Alabama last month, the denomination created a committee to evaluate allegations against churches accused of mishandling abuse. The Southern Baptist Convention’s top leaders, who promised last month to fix the way churches address sexual abuse, have not commented on the Braggs’ case.

Since 1987, the State of Texas protects churches and other charitable organizations from damages in lawsuits by capping their maximum liability at $500,000. However, the limit does not apply to acts that are “intentional, willfully negligent, or done with conscious indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others.” The lawsuit alleges that the damage cap does not apply because the church was “willfully negligent” in its failure to protect a child in its care from being sexually assaulted.

If you or someone you know has experienced abuse from a member of the clergy, please reach out to the experienced attorneys at Forester Haynie.



Allergan Breast Implants Linked To Increased Risk Of Cancer

On June 24th, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a recall of breast implants manufactured by Allergan, a pharmaceutical company, after research revealed that there is an increased risk of cancer in patients with the implants. The textured implants were designed to prevent unnatural movement of the implant in the breast. Unlike smooth implants, the sandpaper-like outer texture increases stability by developing a better connection to surrounding soft tissue. The FDA discovered that people with Allergan Biocell textured breast implants had an increased risk of developing breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). 

The FDA based this finding on “newly submitted Medical Device Reports (MDRs) reporting worldwide cases of BIA-ALCL and BIA-ALCL-related deaths associated with these devices. The recalled devices also include tissue-expanders. 

Following the study, the FDA found that of the 573 unique BIA-ALCL cases reported

 

  • 481 are reported to have Allergen breast implants  
  • 33 have died from BIA-ALCL 
  • At least 12 of the deceased patients had Allergen breast implants 

 

The risk of BIA-ALCL is six times higher in people with the Allergen textured-implants compared with textured-implants from other manufacturers. All of the products recalled have the signature Biocell textured surface. The FDA said that the “continued distribution of Allergan’s […] Biocell textured breast implants would likely cause serious, adverse health consequences and potentially death from BIA-ALCL.” 

BIA-ALCL is a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—cancer of the immune system. Unlike breast cancer, BIA-ALCL is found in the scar tissue surrounding the implant and can be treated by removing the implant and the tissue capsule. However, some patients may need to be treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

Women who have been diagnosed with BIA-ALCL have reported symptoms of pain and swelling near the breast implant. Others have reported symptoms including “chronic fatigue, hair loss, intestinal issues, and unexplained rashes and itching.” The FDA has not advised patients to remove their textured-implants unless they have any of the symptoms above. The US is the last of a string of countries to ban the Allergen textured-implants following Canada, Australia, and France.

If you have experienced these symptoms and have Allergen textured-implants, seek out your healthcare provider for a BIA-ALCL exam. You can also click on the link below to have our attorneys start working on your case. 



Could Recent Cases Against Roundup Only Be The Tip Of The Iceberg?

“Roundup”, a common household weed killer, has been brought to court with cases claiming that product can cause cancer. The most recent of the cancer claims is Non Hodgkin Lymphoma due to the main ingredient in Roundup, Glyphosate.

Roundup is a crop weed control product created by Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer for $66 Billion in 2016. This purchase not only gave Bayer ownership of all products made by Monsanto, but their product liabilities as well.

In light of recent events, Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops play a larger role in Roundup’s pending lawsuits than first meets the eye. In Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally, an environmental science journal entry researched and written by Charles M. Benbrook; Monsanto appears to have facilitated Roundup’s usage over the years in farmlands.

In 1996, Monsanto genetically engineered crops that would not be affected by herbicides such as Roundup. These crops were labeled “Roundup Ready”, or RR for short, and could be sprayed with the herbicide without any worry of harming the crops. In short, Monsanto not only created the genetically engineered crops, but also the most common weed killer that will not stunt the yield of the crops. Key crops that have been genetically modified are as follows: soybeans, maize, alfalfa, cotton, and wheat.

Before RR crops were available, farmers would spray herbicide for weeds before the crops emerged from the soil, or after the harvest of the crops to help manage weeds in the fields. However, according to the environmental study, after RR crops became an affordable cost by farmers, the average farmer was spraying herbicides such as Roundup 1-3 times during the crops’ growth period. In 1992 approximately 10 million pounds of glyphosate were applied to crops in America. Then, in 2014, approximately 250 million pounds were applied to crops in America. In fact, 67% of glyphosate’s use in agriculture has been done in the last 10 years because of the price of glyphosate has dropped tremendously over the years, which has led to widely available genetically modified crops for purchase.

For the farmer, RR crops are effective, because they lower labor costs, and help stop or deter soil erosion in areas where the crops are planted. Yet, Mr. Benbrook’s study has shown that there is another factor that has increased use of glyphosate in recent years, the weeds are becoming more resistant to the chemical. This forces the farmer to increase their use of herbicides like Roundup, which means more glyphosate is being sprayed onto our crops, which means the crops affected could end up on our dinner tables each night.

In essence, this means that more genetically engineered crops are being planted, and more glyphosate is being sprayed onto the fields. However, the study does point out, “With few exceptions though, contemporary levels of glyphosate in the air, water, and food result in typical human exposure estimates that remain well below the “levels of concern” or “Acceptable Daily Intakes” established by regulatory bodies around the world”. However, according to a recent interview done by Mike Papantonio, the chemical glyphosate causes “genetic damage, birth defects…liver damage, kidney damage, and blood cancers.” Which could explain why some European countries, such as Germany, have banned herbicides that are intended to kill weeds.

The most recent cases against the product Roundup have been made by individuals who have used the product earlier than 1996, so we may not yet know the full impact of glyphosate. However, as more and more individuals make claims and take Bayer to court over Roundup, we may soon become privy to the true dangers of this chemical.

If you or a loved one have suffered from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, call the experienced lawyers at Forester Haynie for exceptional legal representation.



Pending FLSA Case Against Round Rock Restaurant Group

In 2018 Forester Haynie filed a Federal lawsuit against Round Rock Restaurant Group, LLC and its owner. The lawsuit was styled Stone v. Round Rock Restaurant Group LLC. Following the production of arbitration agreements, Forester Haynie filed numerous arbitration demands against Round Rock Restaurant Group, LLC and its owner. The demands allege that pizza delivery drivers working for Round Rock Restaurant Group, LLC are paid below the federal minimum wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The arbitration demands allege that instead of reimbursing delivery drivers for the costs of using their personal vehicles, the pizza franchises use a flawed method to determine reimbursement for delivery drivers’ mileage. These rates fall below any reasonable estimate of the expenses the drivers incur, causing their wages to fall below the federal minimum wage.

These demands have been filed with the American Arbitration Association, the largest private global provider of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services in the world.

If you have ever been a delivery driver at one of the many stores owned by Round Rock Restaurant Group, LLC and would like more information or to participate in the investigation, fill out the form below.



Archdiocese Sues Insurers Over Denied 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.