Insurance companies are paying $6 million to settle a lawsuit brought against Kiwanis International and local Kiwanis clubs by seven men who were sexually abused at a Centralia group home for boys in Washington decades ago, attorneys for the men said.
Washington state placed 11- to 17-year-old boys who had trouble adjusting to their foster families at the Kiwanis Vocational Home, which operated from 1979 to 1994. The facility proved a nightmare for many.
Boys were molested by other boys, by staff and by directors, and in some cases they were sent to do odd jobs at homes in the community where they were further abused. Reports of the abuse date to the early 1980s, when one boy called police for help only to have the executive director of the home interrupt the call to downplay the report, records cited in the lawsuit show.
Attorney Darrell Cochran said that in recent years, Washington state has paid $29.6 million to settle claims brought by 54 former residents. The state similarly paid out tens of millions of dollars to former residents of the O.K. Boys Ranch operated by the Olympia Kiwanis club after allegations there prompted news stories and legislative hearings in the 1990s.
“The evil that existed at the Kiwanis Vocational Home is impossible to overstate,” Cochran said.
The most recent settlement was reached shortly before opening statements were to begin in a trial in Pierce County Superior Court. There were 10 plaintiffs originally; three were dismissed from the case earlier.
Kiwanis is a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children around the world. In court documents, the defendants argued that the area’s Kiwanis clubs had no role in the day-to-day operation of the boys home, which was established by an entity called Lewis County Youth Enterprises. That entity’s board members were required to be Kiwanis members, and Kiwanis granted the home permission to use its name.
It was the job of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services, now known as the Department of Children, Youth and Families, to oversee the facility, the Kiwanis argued.
“Plaintiffs have not brought claims against their actual abusers. Instead, they seek to hold various non-profit Kiwanis entities liable for the alleged criminal acts of third parties,” the defendants wrote in a trial brief.
The lawsuit alleged that Kiwanis knew of allegations of abuse — as well as mismanagement that included embezzlement — but allowed the facility to remain open.
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