Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault have the right to file civil lawsuits and get financial compensation. Recent changes in the law are now making it easier for abuse victims to seek justice in the civil courts.
This post will look at the process of filing sex abuse lawsuits in Pennsylvania and review the applicable laws related to sex abuse civil suits. We will also discuss the average settlement compensation and jury payouts of Pennsylvania sex abuse cases and look at recent verdicts and settlements.
Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Lawsuit News and Updates
Before we get into the substance of these cases, let’s take a look at recent news and updates in sex abuse lawsuits and criminal cases in Pennsylvania:
February 28, 2024: Legislation enabling individuals to file lawsuits for previously time-barred claims of child sexual abuse was approved by the Pennsylvania House on Friday. The proposed two-year litigation window would extend to all victims previously constrained by the state’s restrictive timelines.
The proposal to lift the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes temporarily was close to being presented to voters for a final decision two years ago but was delayed due to procedural errors by state officials.
On Friday, the House passed, by a vote of 161-40, a constitutional amendment to the Senate that, if agreed upon, could be up for voter approval by November. Additionally, with a vote of 134-67, they passed regular legislation that would become effective immediately upon Senate approval and gubernatorial signature.
The fate of these bills in the state Senate remains uncertain. But we are hopeful.
February 13, 2024: You will see more Pennsylvania Juvenile Detention Center lawsuits in 2024.
February 7, 2024: A McDonald’s franchisee, declared bankrupt, agreed to a $4.35 million settlement with the family of a 14-year-old employee who was raped by a manager, a convicted child sex offender. This settlement, pending approval in Pennsylvania state court, aims to close the lawsuit against Rice Enterprises LLC, the operator of eight McDonald’s locations in Allegheny County.
The manager involved received a sentence in 2021 ranging from four to 10 years for multiple offenses, including assault and endangering the welfare of children. Garner’s employment history with McDonald’s came under scrutiny due to his past conviction in 2003 for aggravated indecent assault and a guilty plea for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.
A second teenage girl has a lawsuit that is still pending.
February 2, 2024: In 2020, following a significant grand jury report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, Pennsylvania sought to amend its constitution to allow for civil lawsuits over childhood sexual abuse outside the current statute of limitations. But in a complete mess, this bipartisan effort failed due to a procedural error by the then Secretary of the Commonwealth, leading to her resignation in 2021.
In 2024, Senate Bill 1, House Bill 1, and Senate Bill 23 all aim to secure a second passage for the amendment but have encountered obstacles, mainly due to disagreements over bundling unrelated amendments. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1 as a package including the lawsuit window, voter ID, and regulatory disapproval amendments. Still, the House, holding a slight Democratic majority, removed the latter two, citing constitutional concerns about combining different issues.
Is this the year this finally gets passed?
January 28, 2024: A New Jersey appellate panel upheld the decision to dismiss three lawsuits alleging priest sexual abuse against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, stating that New Jersey lacks jurisdiction over the archdiocese in these cases.
January 15, 2024: Corey Kolcharno, a former criminal defense attorney from Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to four to 23 months in prison after admitting to trading legal services for sexual favors, as reported by the state Attorney General’s Office.
It sounds like a bad made-for-TV movie. Kolcharno plead guilty to four felony charges of promoting prostitution in October. The charges detailed that he solicited nude photos and worn underwear from four women, either clients or their relatives, offering to waive their legal fees in return.
Depressingly, the 49-year-old Kolcharno was a former District Attorney.
December 31, 2023: A Pennsylvania teenager recounted being sexually assaulted by her teacher, stating she was coerced into silence through manipulation involving the teacher’s personal and professional life.
Emily Lehneis, 31, and currently pregnant with her third child, was sentenced last week to a year of incarceration followed by five years of probation after the victim’s statement was presented in court.
The teenager detailed how the relationship began in 2022 at Susquehannock High School, involving the exchange of explicit images and a kiss, with Lehneis asking her to become her “secret girlfriend.”
September 26, 2023: Emily Lehneis, a former Southern York County teacher, has been charged with sexual abuse of children, obscenity, institutional sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, and corruption of minors.
The charges stem from allegations that she kissed a high school student and exchanged sexually explicit photos with them. Lehneis, who had worked as a special education teacher at Susquehannock High School, resigned from her position in January.
The case is pending in the York County Court of Common Pleas.
September 24, 2023: The Pennsylvania General Assembly has missed the deadline to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot, which would have provided survivors of childhood sexual abuse a two-year window to seek compensation against their abusers and institutions that protected them.
What killed this effort to bring justice for victims in Pennsylvania clergy abuse and other sexual assault cases? The same partisan nonsense that is hurting the whole country. Partisan bickering even destroys progress where the parties agree.
But the general bipartisan support for the measure among current state lawmakers was overshadowed by disputes between Democratic and Republican caucuses who were arguing about unrelated amendments to the bill. It is depressing how the sausage gets made and the victims here are people who deserve justice.
A new sex abuse statute of limitation will be passed in Pennsylvania. Eventually. But justice delays is justice denied
September 23, 2023: A Greene County man has been ordered to stand trial after his preliminary hearing on over 2,000 child sex abuse charges dating back to 2018 when the victim was aged between 8 and 11. Dustin Lane is accused of inappropriate touching, sexual abuse, and showing explicit material to the child.
The investigation began in May following reports, and the victim’s sibling corroborated many details of the abuse. Lane allegedly gave the child money and gifts to keep the abuse concealed. While Lane denied the allegations, investigators found inconsistencies in his statements. He faces numerous felony charges, including child rape, indecent assault, and corruption of minors.
September 21, 2023: A Bristol Borough man, has been sentenced to jail time after pleading no contest to statutory sexual assault and corruption of a minor charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of a teenager in Perkasie Borough.
While an additional charge was dismissed as part of his plea, a no-contest plea indicates an acknowledgment of the likelihood of a guilty verdict based on available evidence. Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Stephen Corr sentenced Jason Batistoni to 16 months to 5 years in jail, followed by two years of probation, along with sex offender supervision upon release and compliance with sex offender conditions.
- More Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuit updates
Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Sex Abuse in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law permits victims of sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits and seek monetary compensation. The right to bring a civil lawsuit is not contingent on whether the victim pressed criminal charges. Abuse victims can file a civil suit regardless of whether they reported the abuse to the police when it happened. It also doesn’t matter whether the abuser was convicted.
Victims can bring civil lawsuits for sexual abuse as long as they are presently willing to testify under oath about the facts of the alleged sexual abuse or assault. Other forms of evidence, such as medical records or fact testimony from other witnesses, can also support the victim’s testimony.
If you file a sexual abuse lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the case will be public record. However, you may be able to keep your name and identity confidential. Pennsylvania’s court rules allow victims to keep their names confidential and use “Jane Doe” or initials in court filings.
Holding Third Parties Liable for Sex Abuse
The primary defendant in any sexual battery lawsuit would be the person who committed the sexual assault. The problem with suing the abuser is that they might already be dead or in jail, and even if they are still around, they may not have money or financial resources to pay for any compensation awarded in the case. Going after the abuser only makes sense in a civil case if they are wealthy.
To get actual compensation in a sex abuse lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to go after a third party with deep pockets, like a church, school, or corporation. These parties can be held liable in a civil case if the plaintiff can show that their negligence somehow enabled the abuse to occur or to continue. Third parties in sex abuse lawsuits can also be held liable if they attempt to cover up abuse incidents afterward.
Let’s consider a typical example of how third parties can be liable for sex abuse in Pennsylvania. Let’s say that a guard at a juvenile detention facility is sexually abusing boys who are inmates. Several victims file complaints, but the facility ignores them and allows the guard to continue his abuse. The victim can file a civil lawsuit against the detention facility (or the County that operates it) for negligently failing to investigate and protect them from abuse.
Similar theories of liability are frequently used to hold churches, schools, and organizations like the Boy Scouts liable in civil sexual assault cases.
The Definition of Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania law, sexual assault or battery is defined as any non-consensual touching of a person’s intimate parts intentionally done for sexual gratification or arousal. Under this broad definition, anything from groping breasts at an office happy hour to forcible rape falls under the definition of sexual assault or abuse.
Two critical elements must be present for an action to qualify as sexual battery in Pennsylvania: (1) sexual intent and (2) lack of consent. The first element is sexual intent. The plaintiff must show that the defendant engaged in unwanted touching for sexual gratification. Accidentally touching someone’s private parts does not count.
The second element is the lack of consent. For intentional touching to qualify as sexual battery, it must be done without consent. Legally, children under the age of 18 cannot give consent to sexual touching. This means that any intentional sexual contact with a minor by an adult lacks consent and qualifies as sexual battery.
Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Victims considering filing a sex abuse civil lawsuit in Pennsylvania must know the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations imposes a legal deadline on how long a plaintiff can wait before filing a lawsuit. The plaintiff loses their right to sue if the case is not filed before the deadline expires.
SOL for Post-2019 Sex Abuse
In 2019, Pennsylvania did pass an amendment to its sex abuse statute of limitations. Under this new law, victims of childhood sexual abuse have until their 55th birthday to file a civil lawsuit for sexual battery. For victims between 18-24 when the abuse occurred, the new law gives them until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit. These new laws only apply to cases where sexual abuse occurred AFTER January 1, 2019. Abuse occurring before 2019 is subject to the old statute of limitations.
SOL for Pre-2019 Sex Abuse
Cases involving sexual abuse or assault before January 1, 2019, are subject to Pennsylvania’s general 2-year statute of limitations. If the abuse occurred when the victim was an adult (over age 18), the victim has 2-years from the last assault to file a civil lawsuit.
For cases where the victim was a child when the abuse occurred, the 2-year statute of limitations gets tolled until the victim turns 18. So victims of child sex abuse occurring before 2019 would have until their 20th birthday to file a civil lawsuit.
Expanding the Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations
Pennsylvania was very close to passing a new law or amendment to the state constitution (House Bill 14) that will eliminate the statute of limitations for all civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse of a minor. The new law was passed by the lower branch of the Pennsylvania legislature and was under consideration by the State Senate.
But the legislature to meet the deadline to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot, which would have allowed survivors of childhood sexual abuse a two-year window to seek monetary damages from their abusers and the institutions that protected them.
This legislative failure follows nearly two decades of obstacles that have stopped many survivors – often clergy abuse survivors which is where the lobbying against his bill came from – path to achieving justice.
This is not some Trump-Biden split where everyone falls behind partisan positions. There was bipartisan support for this new Pennsylvania sex abuse statute of limitations. But, depressingly, there were partisan differences between the Democrats and Republicans over whether to bundle the proposal with other amendments, including one related to voter ID requirements which has nothing to do with protecting sexual abuse victims.
History of Sex Abuse in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has a troubling past with clergy abuse and other sex abuse cases. In 2005, the Philadelphia DA initiated a groundbreaking investigation into clergy sexual abuse within the Philadelphia Archdiocese, leading to a comprehensive 400-plus-page report that unveiled shocking abuse inflicted by over 60 priests on hundreds of children.
In 2011, we saw the Penn State University tragedy unfold with the attorney general’s 339 pages report of damning evidence detailing Sandusky’s elaborate scheme, which included grooming and exploiting boys through his nonprofit, the university, and local schools, and the people who looked the other way.
In 2016, another grand jury revealed a 147-page exposé of at least “six decades of persistent and concealed sexual abuse of hundreds of children by at least 50 priests” within the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.
Then, in 2017, a grand jury report by the Bucks County district attorney laid bare decades of abuse at a private boarding school near New Hope, emphasizing the importance of exposing these crimes and the reasons they remained hidden for so long.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Attorney General released a groundbreaking 1,356-page grand jury report, unrivaled anywhere in the country, exposing child sex crimes and cover-ups within Pennsylvania’s six remaining Catholic dioceses.
Today, the Pennsylvania Attorney General is investigating the abuse of Jehovah’s Witness children, already resulting in criminal charges against five individuals.
Settlement Value of Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Pennsylvania
The settlement value of Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuits against third parties such as schools, churches, or corporations is based on several factors. Below is a list of the primary factors that tend to drive the value of these sex abuse cases up or down.
- Evidentiary Strength: The strength and quality of the evidence showing that the sexual abuse happened is one of the most critical factors impacting the value of abuse cases. When there is solid, reliable evidence to substantiate the abuse allegations made by the plaintiff, the case has a much higher value.
- Abuse Severity: The severity and nature of the sexual abuse can also drive the case’s value upward. The frequency and duration of the abuse also come into play here. A case involving a single incident of abuse will be worth less than one involving regular abuse lasting years.
- Strength of 3rd Party Liability Theory: The level of responsibility or negligence by the church or responsibility of just how much they failed the victim will affect the settlement amount of a Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuit. If the church or corporation was either aware of the abuse or clearly turned a blind eye to all of the clues, that really impacts settlement amounts because of how it strengthens the case and the adverse publicity from a jury verdict with those facts. So if they tried to cover up the abuse, a jury would destroy them, impacting settlement payouts.
- Reputation and Resources of 3rd Party: The church’s financial position and public image can influence the settlement amount. Big corporations or organizations may be willing to pay more money to settle cases and protect their public image.
- Your Lawyer: The experience and skill of the attorneys representing both the victim and the church or company can influence the settlement process and the final settlement amount. The best Pennsylvania sex abuse lawyers fetch the higher settlement amounts for their clients.
Certainly, the ability of a third party to pay is often critical to getting fair settlement compensation. This is not always easy in Pennsylvania in clergy abuse lawsuits where you would think the ability to pay would not be an issue.
For example, the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg created a compensation fund. On February 15, 2023, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted final approval to the Plan of Reorganization for the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.
This Plan elucidates the procedures by which the Diocese and its related entities will establish a Survivor Compensation Trust, contribute $7.5 million for financial restitution to survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and implement enhanced child safety measures.
In addition, the Diocese’s current and previous insurance providers will inject a further $10.75 million into the Trust. Before initiating the reorganization, the Diocese authorized an independent Survivor Compensation Program, distributing $12,784,450 to aid 111 survivors. So that is a per-person average sex abuse settlement of $115,000. That is not a lot of compensation for a clergy abuse lawsuit.
Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Settlements and Verdicts
One tool to help you understand how much your Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuit might be worth is comparing your case to previous settlements and verdicts in similar cases involving sexual abuse. While the settlements and verdicts summarized below can provide valuable insights into potential compensation, you must understand that every case is unique and complex, and it’s impossible to accurately summarize a case in a single paragraph. You cannot assume that a similar case will have the same outcome.
Prior settlements and verdicts cannot offer an accurate prediction of what your case will be worth. They can help provide a general understanding of the range of potential compensation. Still, they should be considered in conjunction with other case evaluation tools to accurately determine your claim’s value.
- $4,400,000 Settlement (Allegheny County 2024): A former McDonald’s employee was sexually assaulted at age 14 in a Bethel Park McDonald’s restroom. Of course, this is a simple case. How is it possible for a convicted, registered sex offender to be employed as a manager overseeing 14- to 17-year-old girls at a McDonald’s?
- $3,500,000 Settlement (Delaware County 2023): A man sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy in Delaware County. The victim, who had attended a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program at St. Katherine’s of Siena in Wayne, claimed that the man raped him after a confession in the priest’s office, with threats of eternal damnation if he disclosed the assault. This awful human who is now deceased worked at various parishes and schools in the region over his 42 years in the ministry. His clergy abuse lawyer filed a lawsuit contending that the archdiocese was aware of this pattern of behavior as early as 1976 but failed to take appropriate action.
- $3,700,000 Settlement (Bucks County 2022): This case involved 21 minor plaintiffs who suffered multiple injuries, including sexual abuse inflicted by priests and a teacher at the defendant diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The plaintiffs’ clergy abuse lawsuit contended that the diocese had prior knowledge regarding the sexual abuse of the plaintiffs but failed to take action to prevent further abuse and breached their duty to ensure the safety of minors entrusted to their care.
- $70,000 Settlement (York County 2021): A 75-year-old resident female with Alzheimer’s disease was allegedly sexually assaulted by a laundry worker at the nursing home where she was a resident. That lawsuit alleged that the nursing failed to monitor and investigate reports of similar conduct.
- $150,000 Settlement (Bucks County 2018): a 7-year-old male was placed in temporary custody at Christ’s Home for Children, where he allegedly suffered repeated sexual assaults and abuse by other older residents. The lawsuit alleged that the facility failed to supervise the residents and prevent the abuse.
- $1,530,000 Verdict (E.D. Pa. 2018): A 13-year-old boy was a resident in a treatment facility operated by the defendant. During his residency, the boy was allegedly the victim of a single incident of sexual abuse by an older boy at the facility. The lawsuit alleged the defendant was negligent for failing to utilize safeguards, policies, and procedures.
- $200,000 Settlement (E.D. Pa. 2017): A female high-school student in the Pennridge School District reportedly suffered severe and ongoing psychological damage from abuse by the district’s basketball team coach. The abuse included 15 sexual encounters that lacked consent because the girl was under 18.
Contact Us About Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Lawsuits
If you are a victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in Pennsylvania, contact us today at 800-553-8082 or reach out to us online.