$18.5 million punitive damages may be record
PORTLAND – A jury on Friday ordered the Boy Scouts of America to pay $18.5 million to a man sexually abused by a former assistant scoutmaster in what is believed to be the largest such award against the national organization.
Lawyers for Kerry Lewis had asked the jury to award at least $25 million to punish the Boy Scouts for what the jury had already agreed in the first phase of the trial was reckless and outrageous conduct.
The jury decided on April 13 that the Boy Scouts were negligent for allowing former assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes to associate with Scouts, including Lewis, after Dykes admitted to a Scouts official in 1983 that he had molested 17 boys.
The jury awarded Lewis $1.4 million in compensatory damages with that verdict and agreed the Boy Scouts were liable for punitive damages to be determined in the second phase of the trial that ended Thursday.
The verdict came as the Boy Scouts, a congressionally chartered organization, mark their centennial.
The amount of the damages surprised Patrick Boyle, editor of the Youth Today newspaper and author of a book about sex abuse within the Scouts.
“That’s a lot of money. This is by far the biggest award against the Scouts for sex abuse, probably by several times,” Boyle said.
The award is also significant, he said, because it is only against the national Boy Scouts organization and is not divided among any of its local councils or other defendants.
Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, the attorneys for Lewis, said Friday after the verdict that publicity about the case also could act as a deterrent.
“They’ve always settled. And they’re silent. No one hears because it does not see the light of day,” Mones said. “What we saw here in Portland really pulled back the covers on the Boy Scouts of America and what it did to cover up.”
During the first phase of the trial, Clark and Mones introduced more than 1,000 files the Scouts kept on suspected child molesters from 1965-’85 as evidence the organization should have put a sex abuse prevention program into place decades ago.
The Scouts executive now in charge of those files admitted they had never been evaluated or analyzed to help design or determine the effectiveness of a prevention program that is now in place.
“If we’re talking about a 90-year practice, that is phenomenally damning,” said Steven Green, a Willamette University law professor who also holds a doctorate in U.S. constitutional history.
Green said knowledge about a problem and the awareness the problem could continue to result in some type of injury are “at the heart” of any punitive damages case.
“The fact they had these files indicating sexual abuse was going on undermines any argument they had their own standards that were sufficient at the time,” he said.
A number of witnesses testified for the Scouts during the second phase of the trial that they participated in a training and prevention program since at least the late 1980s. None could say why the Scouts had not yet made the “youth protection training” program mandatory.
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