Civil suits could weigh heavily on PSU
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Penn State University's dizzying six-day free fall into an uncertain future due to a child sex abuse scandal is likely to continue for some time given a continuing criminal investigation, the potential for additional victims to come forward and pending criminal proceedings.
And then there is the high likelihood of civil lawsuits by those allegedly sexually assaulted by former PSU coach Jerry Sandusky -- suits that could potentially cost the university and its insurers tens of millions of dollars.
Additionally, legal experts say, also potentially civilly liable is The Second Mile, the State College charity for at-risk children that Mr. Sandusky founded in 1977. It was through that organization that he met the eight victims he is criminally charged with sexually assaulting over a 15-year period.
How the civil litigation might play out, how much Penn State and The Second Mile could lose in civil proceedings and how long it will take to resolve all the issues is anyone's guess because the Penn State child sex abuse case is so unusual in its depth and breadth, legal experts say.
"As has been said many times, the closest thing out there is the [Catholic] church [sex abuse] cases," attorney John Gismondi said. "This obviously isn't as broad as the church cases that went all across the country. But other than that, have I seen anything like this before? No.
"It's going to keep the criminal and civil court systems busy for a while," he said, adding the civil cases probably wouldn't get under way until after the criminal cases are litigated.
Under Pennsylvania criminal law, the statute of limitations to file child sex charges can run until a child victim turns 50. But in civil court, the statute of limitations for a child victim to file a lawsuit runs only until he or she is 30, under an amendment the Legislature approved in June 2002. Children abused before that date are covered by the much more limited former statute of limitations that runs only until they are 20.
That means there may be no civil recourse for more than half of the eight alleged victims in the Penn State case because their sexual assaults occurred prior to the date when the statute of limitation was liberalized, and they are now over the age of 20. However, authorities are seeking to identify additional victims and, if more are found, they could meet the statute of limitations.
"My conclusion after reading the evidence in the presentment is there are enough facts there that a civil complaint could be filed," attorney Bill Caroselli said.
The contention in such a civil suit would be that officials of Penn State and/or The Second Mile had knowledge of Mr. Sandusky's alleged child sex abuse but were negligent in not stopping it and reporting it to police.
The grand jury presentment said both institutions knew of a 1998 university police investigation of child sex abuse against him that the Centre County district attorney halted without charges being filed.
And, the presentment said, both knew of a 2002 incident in which a graduate assistant reported seeing Mr. Sandusky having anal sex with a boy about 10 in the football locker room showers.
Athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz are charged with lying to a grand jury and not properly reporting the suspected abuse in 2002.
Mr. Sandusky retired from coaching in 1999 -- the year following the first investigation -- and as part of his retirement package had an office in the Lasch Football Building; unlimited access to all football facilities, including the locker room where the 2002 assault allegedly happened; access to all recreational facilities; a parking pass; and a university Internet account.
"To me, as a civil litigator, I would certainly want to get those items and facts in front of a jury," Mr. Caroselli said.
First Published November 11, 2011 12:00 am