Award Cut in Mormon Church Abuse Case

Associated Press/September 15, 2007

Seattle — Part of a $4.2 million award in a sexual abuse-related lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been overturned on appeal.

A three-judge panel of the Washington state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that the church still owed slightly more than $1.2 million to two sisters who said a Mormon bishop had kept one of them from reporting sexual abuse by their stepfather, Mormon high priest Peter N. Taylor.

However, the panel also ruled that the church was not financially responsible for Taylor's liability and returned the case to a trial court for a decision on liability beyond the $1.2 million.

Thomas D. Frey, a lawyer for the church, said church leaders were pleased with the legal clarification.

In late 2005, a jury in Seattle awarded $4.2 million to Jessica and Ashley Cavalieri, now 26 and 21, for abuse that occurred in the 1990s.

Of the total, $1.7 million was assessed against Taylor, slightly more than $1.1 million against the church for outrageous infliction of emotional distress because Bishop Bruce Randall Hatch prevented the older daughter from reporting abuse, and $1.4 million against the church for negligence because Hatch did not report the abuse to civil authorities.

The appeals ruling held that the church could not be held liable for the entire amount assessed against Taylor and overturned the negligence award altogether. The appeals court rejected the sisters' claim that the bishop was similar to a social worker and thus required to report sexual abuse to authorities.

Timothy D. Kosnoff, a lawyer for the sisters, said he might appeal.

Taylor pleaded guilty to first-degree child molestation in 2001 and was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

The sisters agreed to let their names be used in news reports in the hopes it would help other abused children after they brought the case in 2002.

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