— Court Rejects Archdiocese’s Attempt to Establish Immunity Based on First Amendment —
HARTFORD, CT (October 13, 2016) – The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford has reached a settlement in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a teenage boy by a priest, Rev. Edward Tissera, more than 15 years ago.
Plaintiff attorneys Ernie Teitell and Marco A. Allocca of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP of Stamford announced the settlement, which was mediated by Judge Antonio C. Robaina, the presiding judge at Hartford Superior Court.
“We settled this matter without a single deposition being taken, which saved our client the extreme emotional distress and burden that would have come with being deposed and reliving his painful experiences,” said Mr. Teitell. “In fact, pleadings were not even closed and limited discovery was exchanged when the case was settled.
“However, we are not celebrating this outcome because when you represent a victim of childhood sexual abuse, there are no true victories, but only important steps in the road to the victim’s recovery,” he continued. “By bringing this case the plaintiff wanted to show other abuse survivors that they do not have to keep their own victimizations secret.”
Attorney Teitell noted that the firm successfully defended a challenge by the Archdiocese in which it claimed that the First Amendment exempts religious institutions from the types of claims brought by John Doe. Effectively, the Archdiocese claimed that it was immune from suit with respect to its hiring and retention practices pursuant to the First Amendment, arguing that the adjudication of such claims would necessarily result in an unconstitutional interference by the courts with protected religious activities. However, the Court rejected the Archdiocese’s attempt to establish such broad immunity, noting that John Doe’s claims related to religion-neutral tort law, aimed not at a particular religious institution, but instead the tortious conduct itself.
On September 12, 2014, Silver Golub & Teitell filed a lawsuit on behalf of “John Doe” against the Archdiocese of Hartford and an individual priest, Edward Tissera. He is known by several names, including W. Edward Tissera, Edward J. Tissera, Rev. Edward Warnakulasooriya, Revered Edward J. Tissera (Warnakulasuriya) and Father Ed.
According to the lawsuit, on several occasions between approximately October 2000 and March 2001, Tissera, a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese, repeatedly sexually assaulted, battered and abused John Doe, who was 13 years old at the time. The repeated and prolonged sexual abuse occurred in John Doe’s own bedroom at his childhood home. As a result of this sexual abuse, John Doe suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe emotional distress and difficulties with forming and maintaining close, personal and intimate relationships.
Claims Against the Archdiocese
The lawsuit included multiple counts against the Archdiocese, including Negligent Hiring and Retention, Negligent Supervision, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Negligence and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
In addition to claiming that the Archdiocese should be held liable for its negligent hiring and supervision of the priest, the suit further claimed that the Archdiocese should be held liable for institutional failures, such as failing to have appropriate policies and rules in place, failing to properly educate and train its priests and failure to take adequate steps to prevent such abuse, despite a long history of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. Put simply, the suit claimed that the Archdiocese’s acts and/or omissions created an environment in which it was possible for Tissera to sexually assault and abuse John Doe.
“We are very proud to represent this man, who had the courage to overcome his own fears to bring this claim,” added Attorney Allocca. “Sexual abuse can cause shame and guilt which sex abuse survivors carry with them for a lifetime. This lawsuit was brought because he knew it was important to confront his past and to show others that they can do the same.”
About Silver Golub & Teitell LLP
Celebrating its 38th anniversary this year, 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, these cases have had a significant impact on diverse areas of both state and national law. The firm has offices in Stamford, Danbury and Waterbury, CT. www.sgtlaw.com
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