Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sexual Abuse by Church Employees: $28 Million Verdict

(P) $28,000,001.00
Sexual Assault, Intentional Torts - Sexual Battery, Worker/Workplace Negligence - Negligent Supervision
Jane Doe v. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., The Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania, The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, Jehovah's Witnesses on Peralta Blvd. Fremont, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, Jonathan Kendrick, No. HG11558324
Superior Court of Alameda County, Hayward, CA
Robert McGuiness
06-14-2012

Plaintiff(s):
Attorney(s):
  • Kelly Kraetsch; Furtado, Jaspovice & Simons; Hayward, CA, for Jane Doe
  • Rick Simons; Furtado, Jaspovice & Simons; Hayward, CA, for Jane Doe

Expert(s):
  • Carl Lewis; Child Abuse; Half Moon Bay, CA called by: Rick Simons, Kelly Kraetsch
  • Anna Salter; Child Abuse & Neglect; Madison, WI called by: Rick Simons, Kelly Kraetsch
  • Lynn Ponton M.D.; Psychiatry called by: Rick Simons, Kelly Kraetsch
Defendant(s):
Attorney(s):
  • James M. McCabe; The McCabe Law Firm, APC; San Diego, CA, for North Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Robert J. Schnack; Jackson Lewis LLP; Sacramento, CA, for The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
  • None reported; null, null, for Jehovah's Witnesses on Peralta Blvd. Fremont, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, The Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania

Expert(s):
  • Monica Applewhite; Child Abuse & Neglect; Austin, TX called by: James McCabe, Robert Schnack
Insurers:
  • None all defendants
Facts:
During 1995 and 1996, the female plaintiff, then between the ages of 9 and 10, was a member of the North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, when she was allegedly molested multiple times by a fellow congregant, Jonathan Kendrick.
The victim sued Kendrick; The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc. North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses; and additional governing bodies within the church, including The Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania; The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses; Jehovah's Witnesses on Peralta Blvd. Fremont; and Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses; alleging that Kendrick's actions constituted sexual assault and battery and that the co-defendants provided negligent supervision by failing to protect the child.
All defendants except The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and Kendrick were discontinued against prior to trial.
Kendrick, who in 1993 acted as a ministerial servant, was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery in 1994 stemming from a 1993 incident where he touched his 15-year-old step-daughter's breasts. He was immediately removed from his ministerial servant post, to which he never returned. He was never charged criminally with the incident involving the plaintiff, but was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child in 2004.
The plaintiff contended that she was often molested in Kendrick's home following church functions. She contended that on several occasions, she had been driven by Kendrick from the church to Kendrick's home, and then either driven to her home or back to the church. She contended that many times at church functions, Kendrick acted inappropriately with her, including giving her bear-hugs and having her sit on his lap. She further argued that the church was aware of Kendrick's 1994 conviction, but failed to notice the congregation or take preventative actions to keep Kendrick from children.
The plaintiff argued that church elders had met with the prior victim and her mother, so church officials were aware of the 1993 incident. Plaintiff's counsel further argued that the church had instituted and followed a corporate 'policy of secrecy' regarding any abuses perpetrated by members. Plaintiff's counsel specifically noted a July 1, 1989, corporate policy letter, which said to keep all personal information secret, especially information mentioning sexual abuse of a child.
Witnesses for the plaintiff testified that they'd seen Kendrick act inappropriately with the plaintiff during church events.
The plaintiff's expert on child abuse opined that, by the mid-1990s, all churches in the country had a policy instructing officials to report incidents of child abuse, and that it was against the standard of care for an organization not to have a similar policy. The plaintiff's abuse investigation expert opined that many children delay in reporting abuse and often report the information somewhat incorrectly when they do report it.
The church contended that they were not liable, as Kendrick was not a church official, but only a rank and file member of the church and none of the alleged incidents happened during church functions or on church grounds.
The church also contended that it did not have a 'policy of secrecy', and that no organization (secular or religious) serving youth has a practice of announcing allegations of child sex abuse against its members. The church also argued that the only a single paragraph of the 1989 letter addressed child sex abuse, and that the letter only stressed confidentiality in personal matters because many churches were facing slander lawsuits; therefore the letter did not constitute a "policy of secrecy." The church further contended that the policy of confidentiality is also required by their religion.
The defense further contended that the church acted appropriately after learning of Kendrick's 1993 incident, as he was removed from his ministerial servant post; elders admonished him to stay away from children and watched him closely at church events; and told the victim and her mother they had the right to report the incident to the authorities.
The church also argued that the plaintiff's parents, the Fremont Police Department and Child Protective services were partially liable, as the victim testified she was always with at least one parent when she went to church and all church functions, and that the police and Child Protective Services never notified the church of the investigation or conviction despite knowing that Kendrick was a church member. The church further noted that it did not separate children from their parents, as it did not hold bible classes, Sunday school, retreats or summer school camps.
The defense argued that she could not have been taken to his home multiple times as she had alleged, because records show that Kendrick only lived alone for about three weeks in October 1996. Therefore she must have been lying or not accurately remembering the incidents.
Nine witnesses, including the plaintiff's parents, three church elders, four mothers and grandmothers -- all congregation members -- testified that they did not see any abuse, suspicious activity or the plaintiff leaving alone with him in his vehicle after church. Some indicated they would have notified authorities if they had.
The church's expert on child abuse opined that no religious groups were reporting child sex abuse during the mid-1990s, therefore it was not against the standard of practice for the church to not report Kendrick's prior incident.
The defendants filed motions to allow the jury to consider apportioning liability against non-parties, including the plaintiff's parents, the police and local child protective services. The motion was denied.
Injury:

The plaintiff claimed that she suffers from chronic anxiety, depression and severe post-traumatic stress disorder that led to alcohol and drug abuse. She first reported the alleged incidents to a doctor in 2006, and began treating with psychological counseling in 2010. She claimed that she needs an intensive care program that would cost $160,000. The plaintiff's expert psychiatrist opined that the plaintiff was severely affected by the abuse and had severe depression, anxiety and PTSD. She also sought recovery for past and future pain and suffering and punitive damages.
Plaintiff's counsel maintained that the defendants' corporate assets to be $30 million in cash and approximately $1 billion in real estate, and asked the jury to award $21 million in punitive damages.

Verdict Information:
The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded her $28,000,001. The jury found 60 percent liability against Kendrick, 27 percent liability against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and 13 percent liability to North Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, Fremont. The punitive damages apply only to the corporate defendants.

Jane Doe
$21,000,001 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages
$130,000 Personal Injury: future counseling
$6,870,000 Personal Injury: non-economic damages

The Law Offices of Glotzer & Sweat, LLP handles sexual abuse cases caused by the negligent hiring, retention and supervision of employees of schools, churches, health care facilities (including mental health facilities) and other corporations or organizations in California.  We have offices on Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Palmdale/Lancaster and the Antelope Valley, West Covina/Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley, Ontario/Riverside/San Bernardino and the Inland Empire and Chula Vista/San Diego.  Statewide Toll Free for Free Consultation: 866-229-0101 or visit us on the web at http://www.victimslawyer.com