January 29, 2005 in Nation/World

Insurance companies sue archdiocese

Gillian Flaccus Associated Press
 

LOS ANGELES – The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles withheld “critical evidence” that could help insurance carriers assess the validity and worth of more than 500 sexual abuse claims, the insurers allege.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, three members of American International Group Inc. allege the church and Cardinal Roger Mahony have tried to force insurers into a settlement, but have not provided key documents – including plaintiffs’ medical and work records.

“The archbishop’s failure to investigate and to initiate formal discovery has resulted in the loss of critical evidence,” according to the lawsuit. “Despite the fact that memories are fading and witnesses are dying, the archbishop has consistently resisted the taking of any depositions or recorded statements in the … proceedings or otherwise.”

Nearly 700 clergy abuse lawsuits are pending against dioceses in Southern California.

The lawsuit represents the latest twist in a two-year legal process that began when the state Legislature passed a law suspending for one year the statute of limitations for filing molestation claims in civil court. Both the archdiocese and plaintiffs hope to avoid trial.

Robert Levy, who filed the case for the insurers, said Thursday he could not comment because of the pending lawsuit.

J. Michael Hennigan, representing the archdiocese, said the church has not withheld any documents.

“The archdiocese is disappointed that instead of honoring their obligations to help us reasonably settle these cases, they’ve chosen to file a frivolous lawsuit,” he said.

Ray Boucher, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he believed the lawsuit was an attempt to get the archdiocese to abandon a settlement, which would forestall a payout.

“They’re sticking a knife in the throat of the cardinal and saying either you play the game the way we want to or you don’t have any coverage,” Boucher said. “They know full well if they do that, the archdiocese would end up in bankruptcy.”

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