Insurers Blocked in Deposing Abuse Victims in Western Mass.

By | July 24, 2006

A Superior Court judge in Springfield, Mass. has for now blocked more than 100 people who say they were molested by priests from having to tell lawyers about the abuse they say they endured.

Judge John Agostini ruled Thursday that the alleged victims won’t have to be deposed in an ongoing legal fight between the Springfield Diocese and its eight insurance carriers until all other depositions in the case are completed.

Once those depositions are done, Agostini said, “we will be in a better position to assess” whether the alleged victims need to be interviewed at all.

The move to depose the alleged victims threatened to stall settlements between the diocese and three dozen adults who say they were abused by priests as children.

Lawyers for the diocese have said they want to settle the 36 pending claims. But they’ve been stopped by their insurance companies, which have refused to reimburse the church for a $7.5 million settlement reached three years ago with 46 other victims or cover the costs of any pending claims.

The diocese is suing the insurance companies, but lawyers for the insurers told Judge John Agostini last month that they want to take statements from more than 100 people who say they were abused by priests in the Springfield Diocese. The lawyers said they want to assess the alleged victims’ credibility before the companies can be expected to pay for any settlements.

Lawyers for the church and the alleged victims said collecting those statements would take well over a year and would be traumatic for the people who said they were abused.

“There would’ve been some serious side effects for these folks if they had to give depositions about their abuse,” said John Stobierski, who represents about half of the pending settlement cases. “We’re fortunate that the judge had the compassion to see what these folks would have to go through.”

Stobierski said many of his clients are too emotionally distraught to be put through another round of questions about the abuse they allegedly endured. One of his clients killed himself and another was recently feeling suicidal, he said.

John Gracefa, an attorney for Travelers Insurance who argued for permission to depose the 100 alleged victims, did not return a phone call to The Associated Press.

Agostini also set March 31 as a deadline for all depositions to be completed in the case, speeding up a timeframe that Stobierski said could have dragged on for more than a year.

“It is unlikely that the discovery period will be expanded,” Agostini wrote in his decision. “So the parties should use the time wisely.”

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