Court ruling may allow older clergy abuse lawsuits


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Advocates and lawmakers have been fighting to change the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania to allow victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers.

A recent court case has provided a possible loophole for some.

Superior Court ruled June 11 that Renee Rice will be able to get her day in court in front of a jury of her peers, despite abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese happening in the 70s and 80s.

In 2016, Rice sued the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, alleging abuse by her childhood priest. She alleges the diocese committed fraud, constructive fraud and civil conspiracy to protect its reputation and that of its clergy.

“The allegation was essentially that until the 2016 grand jury report regarding the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, the plaintiff in that case did not know that her abuser had abused other people,” attorney Nathaniel Foote said.

The key part of the case is that the victim is suing over the coverup, not the actual abuse. Because she says the coverup continued until 2016 when her abuser was removed from the church, she may be able to get around the statute of limitations.

Superior Court says that decision should be up to a jury, therefore reversing the trial court’s dismissal.

“The diocese is almost certain to appeal this to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania takes on this case, they could potentially reverse the Superior Court’s decision in Rice,” Foote said.

Foote says this could be a loophole that will allow for many more lawsuits.

“For some clients, they don’t have interest in litigation. They want this over. They want to put it behind them. But for those people who really want to get into discovery with the diocese, find out what documents the diocese has on their abuser or other abusers, this provides an avenue for that for them,” Foote said.

An event Tuesday at the state Capitol is expected to announce what’s believed to be the first lawsuit filed in the wake of the ruling.

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