March 26, 2009

Vermont Supreme Court Considers Punitive Damages Against Diocese for Abuse by Priest

As reported by the Burlington Free Press, the Vermont Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in an appeal by the state's Roman Catholic Diocese from a judgment awarding $8.7 million to a former altar boy who was molested by a priest in the 1970's. The judgment included $7.75 million in punitive damages.

According to the story, the diocese is arguing that the trial court committed instructional error by allowing the jury to award punitive damages without making a finding of "bad motive" on the part of the diocese. The plaintiff contends that the trial court correctly instructed the jury that they could award punitive damages for "reckless" conduct.

As we mentioned in a previous post, the Vermont diocese is also facing a separate award of $3.4 million in another case involving the same priest. At the time of that verdict, there were 19 other pending abuse cases involving the same priest, who has not yet been stripped of his priesthood.