A Waterbury, CT, jury awarded a former boy scout $7 million in compensatory damages for the sexual molestation and assault he suffered in the mid-1970s at the hands of a Boy Scout youth leader.
The trial judge tacked on nearly $5 million in punitive damages, rendering a total verdict of $11.8 million against Boy Scouts of America. The compensatory damage amount is the largest known in the history of cases against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
Attorney Paul A. Slager, a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100, and attorney Jennifer B. Goldstein, both of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP in Stamford, CT, represented the anonymous victim, John Doe, against the local Fairfield County Council of Boy Scouts of America and the Connecticut Yankee Council, Inc., to which the plaintiff belonged as a youth, in addition to the Boy Scouts of America.
John Doe of the Town of New Fairfield, CT, joined his local Boy Scouts Troop 137 in the mid 1970’s when he was 11 years old. Siegfried Hepp, who Doe initially believed to be an adult, was a Boy Scout youth leader who participated in overnight camping trips, fishing trips and troop meetings.
During an overnight camping trip while Doe was sleeping alone, Hepp entered his tent at night and sexually assaulted and battered him. During fishing trips and nature walks, Hepp showed Doe pornography and/or sexually assaulted and battered him at least three times while Doe was between 12-15 years old, according to the plaintiff complaint.
Doe believed Hepp to be an adult at the time of the abuse, although the defendants had been aware that he was approximately 17 years old when he victimized Doe, according to the complaint. Boy Scout troop rosters erroneously listed Hepp as 13 years old for five years in a row.
The victim Doe, who did not make any claims for economic damages, suffered “extensive permanent emotional and psychological injuries” and “significant losses in the enjoyment of his life’s activities,” as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Hepp, according to the complaint. His attorney says he was “willing to endure the pain of sharing his experiences to empower other victims to confront their childhood sexual abuse.” It is apparent from the BSA “ineligible volunteer files” and other lawsuits that there are many other victims.
In its denied motion for summary judgment, the BSA claimed it did not have notice of any alleged sexual abuse by Hepp and owed no duty of care to Doe. But decades of the “ineligible volunteer files” referenced in the complaint and known as the “perversion files”, were kept hidden by BSA showing that they not only knew of the abuse, but took efforts to conceal the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Even with the hundreds of sexual abuse occurrences in the files, the BSA encouraged youth participants, in written materials, to spend time alone with Boy Scout troop leaders, according to court documents. The practice was officially prohibited in 1987, yet according to BSA records, the abuse still occurred.
Similar to the situations in many other lawsuits against the BSA, Hepp, even after allegations of his perpetrating arose, held several leadership positions and remained a Boy Scout Scoutmaster until he was arrested in 1999. The Boy Scout ineligible volunteer files, court ordered for release during a similar 2012 Oregon lawsuit, revealed that the BSA knew of yet failed to report the alleged sexual abuse of youth scouts by troop leaders to the authorities.
The reported perpetrators, some of whom were doctors, teachers, policemen and priests, were often allowed to resign citing non-controversial reasons in order to protect the BSA’s reputation. Some perpetrators were able to reenter the Boy Scouts and continue abusing scouts.
Much like the Catholic Church and Penn State abuse cases, the perpetrators engaged in grooming behavior, in which they select certain children to give increased attention to, and used gifts and privileges to gain their trust and eventually perpetrate the abuse.
The jury found BSA liable for the abuses that Doe suffered, rendering a verdict against BSA of $4,000,000 for its negligence and $3,000,000 for its negligent infliction of emotional distress. “The verdict is a testament to the courage and strength of a child victim of sexual abuse” said Doe’s attorney Paul Slager. He also notes that the verdict was all for non-economic damages, highlighting the significance of losses from sexual abuse and showing “why limits on non-economic damages are wholly inappropriate.”
The jury also found that BSA was reckless in encouraging Doe and other youth scouts to spend time alone with Troop leaders, despite BSA’s knowledge of the allegations of abuse. The judge later imposed an additional $4.8 million in punitive damages against BSA.