Insurers Seek Delay in Pa. Church Abuse Trial

September 29, 2004

Insurance companies being sued by the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese are seeking a delay in the trial until the state Supreme Court rules whether the diocese must pay $1 million in punitive damages for not properly dealing with a priest accused of abusing a child.

The diocese has already paid $1.4 million in compensatory damages and interest, and $1.3 million in legal fees, in a suit filed by an Ohio man in 1986 alleging that he was abused as a child by the Rev. Francis Luddy, who has since been defrocked.

The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case’s remaining issue, whether a jury has the power to impose punitive damages against an employer — in this case, the diocese — for the unlawful actions of one of its employees.

The diocese, since 1992, has sued 13 insurance companies over expenses for abuses that occurred in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Blair County Judge Hiram Carpenter has set a March trial date for that dispute.

The trial involving the insurance companies should wait until after the Supreme Court rules so the parties know just how much coverage the diocese is seeking, said Ralph Monico, attorney for one of the insurance defendants, Interstate Fire and Casualty.

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