Insurers pressured to settle archdiocese abuse claims

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Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

As the Santa Fe Archdiocese’s bankruptcy reorganization enters its fourth year without a resolution, pressure is mounting for church insurance companies to pay a larger share of the payout to nearly 400 child sex abuse survivors.

The archdiocese and the plaintiffs alleging abuse by priests and other clergy reached a tentative agreement last year on what the archdiocese would pay, but contributions from insurance companies remain an issue.

Now, plaintiffs’ attorneys are preparing to ask U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma to allow state lawsuits or claims suspended by bankruptcy filing to proceed, a move that could possibly allow juries assess damages to individual survivors after public trials and prove a lot. more expensive for insurance companies.

The archdiocese itself plans to file a legal action Monday asking a judge to resolve undisclosed issues related to the relationship “between the archdiocese and its insurers,” an archdiocese attorney said Friday during a hearing in Albuquerque.

A recent three-day mediation involving insurance companies, the Archdiocese and claimants, led by a nationally recognized mediator, was positive and should continue, Archdiocese Attorney Thomas Walker said, referring to mediator Paul Van Osselaer from Texas.

“I’m hopeful and I know everyone gets tired of hearing that word as time goes on,” Walker said. “But I’m excited.”

Jim Stang, a California attorney representing the survivors, responded during Friday’s hearing that while some progress has been made, “we are a long way from resolving this case in terms of the dollars involved.”

He noted that in the recent USA Gymnastics bankruptcy settlement involving sexual abuse claims against a former team doctor, the survivors on average will receive $800,000 each. In recent days, the University of Michigan announced a $490 million settlement of sexual abuse claims involving a former school doctor in which survivors will receive an average payment of more than $400,000 each, Stang added.

“We looked to agreements from across the country for guidance on what the fair value of what these (Archdiocese) abuse claims would total,” Stang said. “If they are not paying attention to the trends that are taking place in the country, they are making a serious mistake.”

It has not been disclosed what the Archdiocese is willing to contribute, or what insurance companies offer.

And Rob Charles, a Tucson attorney who represents archdiocese parishes, said citing such multimillion-dollar payments might not sit well with New Mexico parishes that have pledged “probably more than they can afford” to the financial deal. the Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese has had numerous insurers since allegations of sexual abuse by priests and other clergy surfaced decades ago and has so far paid out $52 million, including insurance proceeds and its own money, to settle some 300 cases outside the courts, according to The Associated Press. . That would average about $175,000 per victim.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2018 in part to avoid facing exposure from individual state lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse.

One topic on Friday was whether the Archdiocese’s upcoming legal action related to the insurance problems will be sealed.

Previous court filings, orders and hearings were sealed at the request of the Archdiocese to ensure that their contracts with insurance companies, which had confidentiality clauses, were not breached.

Thuma, while not immediately speaking on that question, said Friday: “My bias is not to seal things, especially in a case like this where there is public interest and the public has a right to know…”

Merit Bennett

Merit Bennett, a Santa Fe attorney, told the judge, “The words ‘under seal’ in these types of matters concern me because I filed my first lawsuit (for child sexual abuse) against the Archdiocese in 1994 and since then the words ‘under seal’ seem to perpetuate the fact that all the abuse was hidden for many, many generations.”

If the insurance case is closed, Bennett said, “the public will basically say, ‘Well, this is more of the same.'”

Stang added: “These insurance policies, you could say, are the most important assets in this (Archdiocese) estate and doing this behind closed doors is not appropriate.”

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