In what is claimed to be the biggest ever such case in the US, the Boy Scouts of America is facing nearly 100,000 allegations of sexual abuse.
The landmark bankruptcy could reshape the future of one of the nation’s oldest and largest youth organisations.
The claims were filed ahead of a deadline on 16 November. Negotiations will now begin between the alleged victims, the Boy Scouts of America and its insurers.
The number of claims and the scale of the total pay-outs required to settle them easily eclipses those in the sex abuse scandal that engulfed the US Catholic Church more than a decade ago, plaintiffs’ lawyers have claimed.
“This is a staggering number of cases, even beyond what I thought was out there,” said Paul Mones, a Los Angeles attorney who won a $20 million judgment against the Scouts in 2010.
Mones is representing several hundred accusers in the bankruptcy.
“The scope of this is something I could never have contemplated,” he added.
The 110-year-old Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February as it faced a wave of new sex abuse lawsuits after several states, including California, New York and New Jersey, expanded legal options for childhood victims to sue.
The organisation has apologised to victims.
In a statement it called the massive response from abuse survivors “gut-wrenching”, adding:
“We are devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting and moved by the bravery of those who have come forward,” it said. “We are heartbroken that we cannot undo their pain…. We are deeply sorry.”
The Boy Scouts of America conducted its own public outreach this autumn, encouraging victims to seek compensation from a trust fund it will establish.
A researcher hired by the Scouts to analyse its internal records last year identified 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims — a fraction of the number who have now filed claims.
Separately, the developments in claims against the Boy Scouts of America come after a leading lawyer suggested that ‘non-sexual’ sexual abuse claims are growing in order to make more money.
Sexual abuse claims which do not actually involve sexual acts are becoming more prevalent in current US litigation, according to Alison Beanum, a partner at law firm Clyde & Co in Los Angeles.
Beanum was speaking as part of the International Underwriting Association’s (IUA) recent market briefing: Emerging Exposures, Best Defense Practices, and Coverage Issues for Sexual Misconduct Cases.
She gave an example of the sort of claim which is becoming more common:
“A student put a pen on a chair, puncturing the other child’s buttocks. This was framed as ‘sexual’, a term used more and more to drive up value.”