NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archdiocese of New York is suing their insurance providers after they refused to pay for the archdiocese's legal defense for a suit that will become active after New York extends its statute of limitations for child sexual abuse.
The archdiocese of New York, headed by Cdl. Timothy Dolan, filed a lawsuit last week against more than 30 of its insurance companies to cover the costs of defending cases they are anticipating will be filed. The lawsuit is seen as a proactive move in advance of the state's new Child Victims Act set to take effect in August.
In addition to extending the statute of limitations, victims of child sexual abuse in New York will have one year to come forward with lawsuits that were previously denied.
According to the New York Law Journal, "The suit serves as a proactive move by the archdiocese, which is seeking a declaration by the court that the insurance companies must provide coverage for, and defend the church against, those claims."
Represented by Blank Rome, a legal firm with offices in Manhattan, the archdiocese claims it filed the lawsuit on behalf of all institutions affected by this change. The archdiocese claims these insurance providers "intend to dispute, limit and/or deny coverage for claims and lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and physical abuse."
The archdiocese argues in the suit that the liability coverage that it purchased obliges their insurance providers to cover claims and lawsuits alleging sexual and physical abuse under those policies.
Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese's spokesman, said:
Rather than honor its contractual obligation under the insurance policies they issued, Chubb has advised the archdiocese that it will not stand behind its insurance policies and contractual obligations, this leaves the archdiocese with no choice but to commence a lawsuit to ask the court to order Chubb to stand behind their insurance policies.
The suit was filed after Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America (INA), a subsidiary of Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, refused to defend the Church against a lawsuit from John Norman that will become active in August. The archdiocese became aware of the lawsuit and filed a claim in April.
In May, the Chubb group denied the claim, stating in a letter to the archdiocese the nature of Norman's allegations does not fall under the archdiocese's policy in this case.
Norman's allegation that the archdiocese knew or should have known about the sexual abuse he endured by two priests in the 1970s was the reason for the denial.
In the denial to the archdiocese, Chubb wrote Norman "alleges to have sustained injury that was expected and/or intended from the standpoint of the archdiocese. These allegations do not give rise to an 'occurrence' under the INA policies."
The archdiocese claims the Chubb group misinterpreted this lawsuit, arguing that Norman instead alleged that they knew or should have known about the "improper conduct" of the two priests that abused him.
"The Norman suit thus seeks to hold the archdiocese liable even though the archdiocese may not have expected or intended, or even had notice or knowledge of the alleged abuse," the complaint notes.
The archdiocese further questioned that they knew about the two priests' behavior claiming Norman's suit failed to allege that the archdiocese received notice of their "pedophilic propensities prior to the alleged abuse."
The archdiocese goes on to say the INA coverage applies and they must defend the Church "even if the allegations against the suit are groundless, false, or fraudulent."
Norman's lawsuit hasn't officially been filed as the statute of limitations extension won't come into force until August.
In February, New York legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law, extending the statute of limitations for childhood victims to age 55 for civil lawsuits and until 28 to file criminal charges.
Many dioceses in the United States use the expiration of the statute of limitations as a defense to get sexual abuse lawsuits dismissed.
Cardinal Dolan spent millions fighting the Child Victims Act because the bill originally only applied to the Catholic Church and not to other institutions such as schools and hospitals.
"The only organization targeted is the Catholic Church," he explained.
When the bill was amended to include all institutions where child abuse could happen, Cdl. Dolan supported it.
The day after the Child Victims Act was passed, attorney Jeff Herman filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Emmett Caldwell and other victims that worked with the archdiocese's Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP).
"I filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of victims who were fooled into participating in a programmed and waived rights that they had," Herman said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit. He explained the purpose of the lawsuit is to void the contracts he claims the victims were tricked into signing.
Herman said the archdiocese of New York, "a billion-dollar corporation," spent millions on fighting the Child Victims Act and said:
When it became clear that this law was going to pass, Cdl. Dolan created a scheme called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program whose sole purpose, we believe and we allege, was to eliminate claims of victims before the Child Victims Act was passed and became law.
Herman blasted the program's claims of fairness and independence, explaining most of the victims were not represented by independent legal counsel and were no match for the archdiocese's high-powered lawyers.
"Just like Emmett was groomed by the priest when he was sexually abused, the archdiocese of New York groomed victims into participating in this program," Herman explained.
Herman accused the archdiocese of re-victimizing survivors of childhood sexual abuse by leading them to believe that the IRCP was their only option.
He said, "Victims who participated were paid pennies on the dollar."
Zwilling confirmed the archdiocese has already received notices of new suits, saying, "The archdiocese has begun to receive notice of lawsuits that will be filed in August, when the law goes into effect."
The costs for legal fees and settlements for these new lawsuits are expected to top $10 million.