Church leaders, lawyers, judges brace for potentially hundreds of court battles

August 12, 2019 11:42 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Church leaders, lawyers and judges are bracing for what could be hundreds of court battles over child sexual abuse this week. 

Starting on Wednesday, under New York's Child Victims Act, the statute of limitations will be suspended for one year for lawsuits by people who alleged they'd been sexually abused as children.


In anticipation of that date, plaintiffs' lawyers stood poised to file papers on hundreds of cases.

"The biggest imperative to get started right away is that people have waited so long to tell their story," explained Samantha Breakstone with the law firm Weitz & Luxemburg. "All that anxiety, all of that wanting to be heard has just built up over time and really, that's what's making us hurry."

On Tuesday, the firm plans to announce 100 lawsuits to be filed in Erie County.  A release from the firm declared it had 67 clients in the Finger Lakes region and Breakstone estimated that, statewide, close to 2,000 of them were ready to file or preparing to file.

After years of headlines about sexual abuse by Catholic priests, Rochester's Bishop Salvatore Matano sent out a video message on Friday, urging prayers, anticipating tough financial decisions and declaring "our diocese has a steadfast record of responding earnestly to victims."

But Breakstone anticipated the coming wave of lawsuits would involve targets much broader than priests or church leaders.

"We have teachers," she said. "We have children's convalescent hospitals, we have juvenile detention facilities, we have individuals, doctors, nurses, you name it."  

Breakstone said her firm's list of accused abusers spanned private and public institutions, municipalities, and school systems, as well as decades of time.

One victim abused as a child, she said, was now 93 years old.

"Do the math on that one," she exclaimed. "Really it's where ever we have a large number of children, these perpetrators and offenders have figured out a way to make themselves fixtures in those communities, whether it be Boy Scouts, whether it be dance school, whether it's sports lessons and coaching."

Craig Doran, the administrative judge for the 7th Judicial District in Rochester says the court was still working on exactly how it would handle the expected surge in abuse lawsuits but he insisted the groundwork was ready. He also predicted that many of the horror stories that were coming would revolve around some of the same accused institutions, and the same insurance providers so he anticipated the process could end up being "streamlined" once it became clear who was involved.

Lawyers for the accusers said that, with a year to file their claims, it was not urgent that they rush to court immediately when the legal window opened on Aug.14.

Still, Breakstone said, it was a chance to encourage other victims who still hadn't come forward to seek help.

"I think more victims in the future, which unfortunately we know is a reality, are going to feel comfortable speaking up a lot sooner," she said. 


Charles Molineaux

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