Jury awards victim $8.7 million in Vermont priest-abuse case.

by John McKiggan

A jury has awarded a man who was sexually abused by Roman Catholic priest Rev. Edward Paquette $8.7 million dollars. The Burlington Free press has reported that the jury deliberated for almost five hours before returning with their verdict.

The jury verdict was for $950,000 in compensatory damages (what is typically referred to as compensation for “pain and suffering”) and $7.75 million in punitive damages.

I posted about this case when the trial started last week, and last year when the Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont threatened to sue Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese for failing to disclose prior complaints of sexual abuse against Paquette.

The lawyer for the Plaintiff had actually asked the judge to declare a mistrial because of statements made by the Diocese’s lawyer during closing arguments:

“It was like a hate speech, inflammatory and highly prejudicial in many respects.”

The lawyer for the Diocese, Thomas McCormick, compared the victim’s lawsuit to winning the lottery:

“This isn’t a state where lawsuits turn into lotteries. You represent the community. You know that’s an absurdity.”

I have represented hundreds of victims of childhood sexual abuse and sexual abuse by priests for more than 15 years. Unfortunately, the appalling statements expressed by the Diocese’s lawyer in the Vermont case are all to common.

While the attitude of defendants in sexual abuse cases in Canada is much the same as the United States, the dollars involved are very different.

In one case where I represented a victim who had been raped by a priest, the lawyer for the Diocese said to me: “no amount of money is going to change what happened so why should we try to put a dollar value on it?”

In Canada punitive damages are rare, and when they are awarded seldom exceed $1 million dollars. Compensation for “pain and suffering” is capped at about $300 thousand dollars and the average award across Canada is now only $125 thousand dollars.

If McCormick had been raped as a child and had his life destroyed would he have considered himself lucky to have hit the jackpot for $125 thousand dollars?

I don’t think so.

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