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Boy Scouts’ bid to settle sexual abuse cases apparently fails to get enough support from alleged victims

A statue stands outside the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Tex. (LM Otero/AP)

The Boy Scouts of America’s latest effort to reach an agreement with tens of thousands of alleged victims of sexual abuse appears to have failed to garner enough support from abuse survivors.

The vote means that the parties to the proposed $2.7 billion settlement, which include major faith groups, several insurance companies and lawyers for the victims, will probably have to return to the negotiating table.

Voting on the proposal began last fall, and the victims had until Dec. 28 to turn in their ballots. In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said a preliminary voting report showed that about 73 percent of survivors voted in favor of the plan.

The proposal required 75 percent to proceed to a confirmation hearing in February.

“We are encouraged by these preliminary results and are actively engaging key parties in our case with the hope of reaching additional agreements, which could potentially garner further support for the Plan before confirmation,” the Boy Scouts’ statement read.

In August, a U.S. bankruptcy judge approved an $850 million settlement proposed by the Boy Scouts to resolve claims from more than 84,000 alleged victims.

Boy Scouts of America settles for $850 million with more than 84,000 sexual abuse victims

The Boy Scouts’ proposal consists of settlements with three insurance companies, Hartford, Century and Zurich, which were contributing about $1.75 billion to a global settlement fund, and the BSA’s local councils, which were contributing about $640 million, for a total global settlement fund of about $2.4 billion.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proposed to pay another $250 million, but that money would have been earmarked for survivors with claims against the Mormon Church. The United Methodist Church agreed in December to raise and contribute $30 million over a three-year period to a fund that would be used to compensate abuse survivors. The church also pledged to work with the Boy Scouts to raise an additional $100 million from other chartering organizations. As a result, the proposed settlement could exceed $2.7 billion.

United Methodists join Boy Scouts settlement

Lawyers for the victims who voted against the settlement said their clients thought the average payout was too low. Jason Amala, a sexual abuse attorney with Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, represents more than 1,000 men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Boy Scout leaders and volunteers. Though Amala said the total payout would have been, “in raw numbers,” the largest settlement of child abuse claims in U.S. history, he said the total figure is misleading because each claimant would have received an average of just $31,000. That’s less than those handed out in cases involving Roman Catholic dioceses and the recently approved settlement involving USA Gymnastics, which will pay an average of more than $700,000 to survivors.

The BSA settlement would have prevented victims from suing the Boy Scouts and its affiliates, including local councils and the charter organizations that oversaw them. But most of those affiliates are not contributing a fair share to the settlement funds, which is reflected in the amount each victim would receive, Amala said. That, he said, is the biggest issue for his clients.

Under the settlement, most chartering organizations did not agree to contribute anything. According to court filings, the United Methodist Church was involved in the highest number of claims, with at least 3,886 people identifying it as their charter organization. The Mormon Church had the fourth-highest number of claims, at 2,481. But the Mormon Church is contributing much more than the Methodist Church, $250 million vs. $30 million, respectively.

Other groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, which was named in 3,213 claims, and the Episcopal Church, which was named in 597, have not joined the settlement.

Everett Cygal, the lead counsel for the Roman Catholic Ad Hoc Committee in the Boy Scouts bankruptcy case, said the settlement failed because the Boy Scouts, the local councils and their insurers did not contribute enough money. Though the Catholic Church will continue to discuss joining the settlement, he said, it does not bear the primary financial responsibility for the settlement.

“The various charter organizations, such as churches and parishes, were volunteers who typically offered the Boy Scouts free meeting facilities and had little else to do with the Scout troop,” Cygal said. “For some reason, the insurance carriers, the Boy Scouts and the local councils wanted to put much more of the settlement burden on these volunteer chartered organizations.”

A spokesperson for the Episcopal Church declined to comment. Other groups told Christianity Today last year that while the Mormon Church has a centralized leadership to cover a vast network of churches, most faith-based organizations do not, and individual churches that sponsored troops may be liable on their own.

More than 250 of the Boy Scouts’ 272 local councils did agree to pay, but Amala said many did not contribute a fair share. The Greater Los Angeles Area Council, for instance, offered $8 million to settle more than 1,100 claims. Amala said his firm represents single clients whose claims against the Los Angeles council are worth more than $8 million, and the organization has the money to pay more. In court documents, that council listed more than $31 million in unrestricted assets.

Tim Kosnoff, a lawyer who represents an additional 15,000 alleged victims, said his clients were “delighted” that the settlement failed. Many have pending lawsuits against local troops and chartering organizations — lawsuits that have been stayed because of the settlement discussions — and if the negotiations between the Boy Scouts and the other parties in the settlement ultimately break down, those suits will begin moving through the courts.

Kosnoff said he would have made “an astonishing amount of money” if the settlement had gone through, but ultimately he counseled his clients against it because the compensation was not commensurate with what they had endured. He said he has exclusively represented victims of sexual abuse for the past 25 years, and the abuse reported in Boy Scouts groups is the worst he’s ever seen.

“The severity of it, the frequency of it, the duration of it, it’s just off the charts,” Kosnoff said.

Other victims groups supported the settlement. Spokespeople for the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice, which helped negotiate the settlement on behalf of 18,000 claimants, said their clients voted for the deal because it “provides compensation without further delay.”

“The Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice and others support the plan because it provides survivors with the best and fastest avenue to closure, as well as just, fair and equitable compensation,” the coalition said in a statement.

Though the coalition noted that nearly 3 of every 4 claimants supported the settlement, Amala said his clients are willing to continue fighting for justice.

“Our clients want fair compensation, but they also want accountability,” he said. “They do not want to take cheap compensation just to be done. Most survivors, if they see that they’re getting unfair compensation, or they see that their charter organization is paying nothing, or their local council is paying a fraction of what they can, that’s not accountability. They’re not stupid, and they’re not desperate. They want accountability. The way we get accountability is through compensation.”