Boy Scouts abuse claims may become largest case against a single national organization

As a Nov. 16 deadline looms for abuse survivors to come forward to make claims in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy, a judge’s ruling could allow the case to become the largest-ever child sexual abuse case against a single national organization.

Late last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein allowed the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice to join mediation discussions, giving a group representing 28,000 clients a say in any future settlement. 

So far, 7,300 accusers represented by the 10 law firms in the coalition have signed consent forms allowing the attorneys to negotiate on their behalf. More are expected to sign before the November deadline to file proof of their allegations. 

That means tens of thousands of accusers, who are considered creditors in the bankruptcy proceeding, could vote on any settlement with the Boy Scouts.  

“In the end it comes down to ... the votes of the survivors, so if you have the majority of the survivors, your votes can confirm a plan,” said Philadelphia attorney Ken Rothweiler, who as part of the group Abused in Scouting represents 13,000 claimants. “Anybody that has the most claimants, it puts them in a very advantageous position.” 

Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Delaware in February amid mounting liability from abuse cases, estimating it faced 275 lawsuits in state and federal courts around the country plus another 1,400 potential claims – a number dwarfed by activity in the months since.  

In recent years, thousands also have said they were abused by by Catholic priests. Those cases have been filed against individual dioceses, however, obscuring how many total claims the church has faced.  

In initial filings, Boy Scouts were the ones who proposed the creation of the Victims Compensation Trust, but the youth organization has not yet suggested how much money would be set aside for it.

The bankruptcy process is ill-suited to deal with these types of cases, said Marci Hamilton, chief executive officer of CHILD USA, a nonprofit think tank that works to prevent child abuse. Hamilton has been studying abuse cases in Boy Scouts based on data shared by Abused in Scouting.  

“The goal of federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy is to be able to reorganize your assets to put a lid on any kind of future claims by people you currently owe,” she said. “It never was intended for child sex abuse.” 

But Hamilton said it has become the “go-to model for organizations with large numbers of victims,” like the Catholic Church.  

“It’s a potent message to the victims: They had better come forward immediately because they might be shut out,” she said. “So, they come forward whether they’re ready or not.” 

Legal battles over the coalition were just the latest in a string of skirmishes that have broken out over the past months. 

The coalition faced opposition from an unlikely combination of the Boy Scouts’ insurers and the Torts Claimant Committee, a group of nine survivors of child sexual abuse within Boy Scouts appointed in March to represent the interests of claim...

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