STAMFORD, CT (December 15, 2014) — Late Friday, a jury in Waterbury, CT, found the Boy Scouts of America National Council liable for negligence and recklessness, handing down a $7 million verdict in favor of a man who was a victim of sexual abuse when he was a member of a New Fairfield County Boy Scout troop in the mid-1970s. In addition to the $7 million jury award for compensatory damages, the jury found that the Boy Scouts should be held liable for punitive damages, in an amount to be determined by the trial judge in a separate hearing to take place in the near future.
The plaintiff, who was referred to throughout the trial as “John Doe” to protect his privacy, is represented by Stamford attorneys Paul Slager and Jennifer Cohen Goldstein of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP in Stamford.
During the trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys introduced shocking evidence that the Boy Scouts of America knew for decades before the 1970s that child sexual abuse was widespread in Boy Scout troop activities across the country. Witnesses in the trial acknowledged the Boy Scouts maintained thousands of secret files it called “the Confidential Files,” dating back to the early 1920s, which were held in secrecy in locked cabinets in the Boy Scouts national headquarters in Dallas, TX.
Rather than using the information in these files to inform and educate local troop leaders, parents and youth participants in the 1970s about the existence of sexual abuse, the plaintiff claimed, the Boy Scouts hid the information, partly out of concern for protecting the Boy Scouts’ all-American image. The plaintiff introduced into evidence in the trial examples of Confidential Files to demonstrate the Boy Scouts of America’s awareness of the problems of sexual abuse and its motivations for keeping the information secret.
A number of the files shown in court revealed that individual perpetrators victimized numerous child scouts in troops. One such file, for example, revealed that a Scout leader molested no fewer than 34 young victims. Several executives from the Boy Scouts of America’s national office testified in defense of the Boy Scouts during the trial, both through live and videotaped testimony, and each acknowledged the existence of the secret files.
The plaintiff testified during the trial, stating he was sexually molested three times by Siegfried Hepp, a long-serving Boy Scout troop leader from New Fairfield, CT. Evidence in the case revealed that another boy in the troop also claimed to have been molested by Hepp around the same time. Records reveal that in 1999, years after the abuse at issue in this trial, Hepp pled guilty to unlawful sexual touching of another minor. Hepp was registered as a sex offender in Connecticut for the following 10 years.
Explosive evidence presented in pretrial motions in the case, but not permitted by the judge as evidence during the trial, revealed that a concerned parent notified the local Boy Scout council about concerns that Hepp was a pedophile in 1993. Nonetheless, the Boy Scouts of America found the allegations to be unfounded and permitted Hepp to remain a Boy Scout Scoutmaster until his arrest in 1999. The plaintiff’s attorneys would not comment when asked whether they represent other child victims who were victimized between 1993 and 1999.
The trial, which lasted for two weeks of evidence, was remarkable for several reasons, including that few such cases against the Boy Scouts of America have been publicly tried and resulted in jury verdicts. This verdict is the largest compensatory damages verdict ever against the Boy Scouts of America and the first such verdict in the northeastern United States.
“It’s very important to our client both that the jury has publicly said the Boy Scouts should be held accountable for keeping this important information secret and also that the jury recognized how much his abuse has impacted his life,” the plaintiff’s attorney Paul Slager said. “That said, we don’t view this as a victory, and we’re not celebrating. When you represent people who are child victims of sexual abuse, there are no true court victories, only important steps in the survivor’s recovery. By bringing this case and seeing it through, the plaintiff here wanted to show other abuse survivors that they need not keep their own victimization a secret,” Slager added.
“We are so proud to represent this man, who had the courage to overcome his own fear to bring this claim in a public forum and to testify about the terrible experiences he had,” added plaintiff’s attorney Jennifer Cohen Goldstein. “One of the results of sexual abuse is the corrosive effect of shame and guilt that sex abuse survivors can carry for years, even decades. He brought this lawsuit partly because he knew it was important to confront this part of his own past and partly because he wanted to show others that they can do this too.”
About Silver Golub & Teitell LLP
Celebrating its 36th anniversary, Silver Golub & Teitell LLP is one of the leading medical malpractice, serious personal injury and complex civil litigation law firms in Connecticut. The firm’s philosophy is simple: to provide its clients with the best legal representation possible, regardless of the effort and expense required. The Connecticut Law Tribune noted that the firm “… has earned some of the largest verdicts and settlements in state history.” At the same time, the firm’s cases have had a significant impact on diverse areas of both state and national law. www.sgtlaw.com