After 3 weeks of trial and two days of deliberations, a Portland jury returned a $1.4 Million verdict finding the Boys Scouts of America liable for negligently allowing a confessed child abuser to continue having contact with other Boy Scouts, including the man who brought the lawsuit. The assistant Scout master had admitted to abusing 17 out of 30 young boys in his troop.
During the case, the victim’s attorneys were able to introduce evidence from the Scout’s own “Perversion Files” which contained information the Scouts had gathered about its leaders who had sexually abused young boys in the Scouts. The jury, during its deliberations, were able to review approximately 1000 of the Perversion Files. Not only did the jury find the local chapter liable for allowing the abuse to continue, but it also found the national Scout organization, based out of Texas, liable for punitive damages. The jury did not decide the amount of punitive damages owed. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant and to deter it and others from committing similar wrongful acts in the future.
This $1.4 Million verdict is only the first phase of the trial, in that the case will resume on April 20, 2010 to begin the punitive damages portion of the trial. In many civil trials where punitive damages are alleged by the victim, the defense attorneys will ask the court to bifurcate the trial into two phases, a compensatory damages phase and a separate punitive damages phase. This tactic keeps the jury from hearing some of the most egregious evidence until after it has decided the amount owed for compensatory damages. Once a jury finds a defendant is liable for punitive damages, settlement negotiations often ensue as most defendants do not want to risk a huge punitive award.