JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Boy Scouts of America can’t be held liable in a case of alleged child sexual abuse by a scoutmaster, a ruling the victim’s attorney said could make it challenging to hold organizations accountable for abuse by employees.
In the ruling, the judges said state law only allows for lawsuits against perpetrators of abuse, not corporations or associations.
“It’s going to be more difficult to hold non-perpetrators liable for the actions of their agents and employees,” said Randall Rhodes, the lawyer for the now-35-year-old man who sued.
Boy Scouts attorney Gerard Noce did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment Tuesday.
The man, identified in court documents only as John Doe, said the national Boy Scouts association and a local chapter were negligent and partly responsible for alleged abuse by a scoutmaster. He said the abuse, including battery, started when he was about 12 years old in 1992 and stretched until 1997.
The judges unanimously sided with the Boy Scouts and Noce, who had argued in December that only people can commit such acts of abuse.
“A corporation or association cannot itself commit the criminal acts that constitute childhood sexual abuse,” the ruling says. “It must act through its agents.”
Judges cited a similar 2011 federal appeals court ruling in a case against a school principal related to allegations of sexual abuse by a teacher.
Rhodes said the Tuesday ruling is the first by the state Supreme Court to say corporations can’t be sued for child sexual abuse.
Rhodes also had argued that Doe met the deadline for the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, which was extended by lawmakers in 2004 to bar lawsuits 10 years after a victim turns 21. Doe filed suit weeks before his 31st birthday.
Previously, such lawsuits were barred after a victim turned 23 or three years after discovering injury caused by abuse.
But judges said the statute of limitation for child sexual abuse doesn’t apply in this case, and said Doe missed other deadlines for battery and negligence claims against Boy Scouts.
The underlying case against the scoutmaster still is pending.
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