Jury Finds Boy Scouts Negligent in Abuse Case; Punitive Damages Next

Courthouse News/April 13, 2010

Portland, Oregon - After a 17-day trial, jurors took a day and half to find the Boy Scouts of America negligent and award $1.4 million to Kerry Lewis, 38, who was abused by an assistant Scoutmaster in the 1980s. The brevity of the deliberations was foreshadowed in closing arguments when Charles Smith, representing the Boy Scouts, told the jury, "If you think any of the men involved would have allowed a known pedophile to exist in their midst you won't have to deliberate for very long."

In less than two days, the jury gave the defense lawyer his answer. They returned a 9-3 verdict finding that the Boy Scouts of America was liable for 60 percent of the pain and suffering Lewis experienced, and its local chapter, the Cascade Pacific Council, was liable for 15 percent.

The jury found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 25 percent responsible for the harm to the young Lewis. But the church had reached a separate settlement with Lewis two weeks before the trial began. In that settlement, Timor Dykes, the assistant Scoutmaster and a member of the Mormon congregation sponsoring Lewis' troop, admitted that he had abused Lewis when Lewis was a young Scout.

The jury will reconvene next Tuesday to consider punitive damages and were unavailable to comment on whether the notorious "perversion files" documenting nearly 1,000 cases of suspected abuse in the Boy Scouts entered into their decision. The Boy Scouts had tried to keep the files confidential, but the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the files submitted into evidence in the Lewis case.

In addition to the evidence in the files, events leading up the molestation of Lewis could be argued to support a sizeable punitive damage award.

In 1983, Dykes confessed to the Mormon bishop who supervised Scouting for the church that he had molested 17 boys during his time as a Scoutmaster. Dykes was briefly suspended but at some point in 1984 returned to Scouting, which is when he abused Lewis. The church selectively notified members of the troop that Dykes had been suspended but did not notify Lewis' parents.

Neither the lawyers representing the Boy Scouts nor Lewis would comment on the verdict pending resolution of the punitive damages phase of the trial and at least five other pending negligence suits against the Boy Scouts. Lewis' family also declined to comment on the case but the broad smiles, with tears and extended hugging indicated that they were at least satisfied with the verdict.

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