|ESPN.com: Commentary||[Print without images]|
In addition to investigations by the U.S. Department of Education, the attorney general of Pennsylvania and the Penn State University board of trustees into allegations of sexual abuse by former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the university and Joe Paterno likely will soon be facing civil lawsuits from the victims of Sandusky's alleged perversity.
Seeking money damages for horror of the assaults and for the damage to their lives, the victims, their families and their lawyers can be expected to target the school, its administrators, athletic department officials, Paterno and anyone else they can identify who helped enable Sandusky or who had a role in covering up what he allegedly did.
|Penn State trustees may spend a lot of time with the university's lawyers in coming years.|
The lawsuits will follow a pattern established in similar cases against priests and parishes of the Roman Catholic Church and against Boy Scouts organizations in the Pacific Northwest.
The process begins with letters from the victims with legal demands. The letters will lead to meetings and to settlement discussions with university officials and, more importantly, with the school's liability insurance companies. In situations as explosive as the Penn State situation, these discussions can lead to financial agreements that would avoid further publicity and allow both sides to walk away reasonably satisfied with the outcomes.
But if a private settlement cannot be concluded, the victims will file public lawsuits, igniting another round of news coverage. This can be as difficult for the victims as it will be for the university. As the lawsuit progresses through the courts, there is the strong possibility of additional revelations as the lawyers dig deeply into Sandusky and to the roles played by Paterno and others.
As the process continues, the courts will attempt to apportion responsibility among all who are being sued, likely including the university itself, Paterno, suspended athletic director Tim Curley, former university vice president Gary Schultz and others.
Another potential target of the lawsuits will be The Second Mile foundation, the charity that Sandusky founded in 1977 and, according to the grand jury's findings, became the source of his various victims. The foundation's assets might become a major factor in both the litigation and the settlements if the victims and their lawyers are able to prove the pattern of exploitation that the grand jury described in its report.
In their lawsuits, the victims will demand enormous sums of money damages. They will seek compensatory damages for their actual losses, and some may seek punitive damages as the result of the egregious circumstances that allowed Sandusky to harm numerous victims. It is difficult now to estimate the values of the settlements or jury verdicts that may result from these lawsuits. Although it is expected that these alleged assaults have caused life-altering damage to the victims, the specific stories of each victim will be major factors in determining value. And, in an odd way, the limits of liability insurance policies are always a factor in settlement negotiations. It can be easier to settle with an insurance company than it is to settle with an institution that must sell assets to pay a settlement.
Whether it's insurance money or university money, it will involve millions of dollars, even tens of millions of dollars, before all claims are resolved.
These cases can take as long as two years to resolve. In the cases involving priests and parishes, the litigation has taken even longer. All involved can look forward to numerous court appearances, depositions and endless meetings with lawyers and insurance companies.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
MORE COMMENTARY »