Penn State’s Legal Troubles Have Only Just Begun

Sandusky's victims are lining up to sue, but what's bad for Penn State could be good for the nation

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Patrick Smith / Getty Images

The sunsets on Beaver Stadium during a football pep rally in State College, Pa., Aug. 31, 2012.

With Jerry Sandusky set to be sentenced next month and Penn State fined $60 million by the NCAA, it might seem as though the embattled university can put the worst of this scandal behind it and start to rebuild. In fact, a new and potentially even more punitive phase is gearing up: the civil lawsuits by Sandusky’s victims. Three have already been filed — including “Victim One,” who testified at the Sandusky trail — and as many as 20 victims may ultimately sue.

There is a tendency to dismiss these kind of plaintiffs as opportunists looking for a big check. But we need lawsuits like these to put the heat on institutions that look the other way when bad things are happening. If the suits go to trial, juries will be asked to evaluate how much physical and emotional damage was done to the men (possibly a great deal) and how important it is to punish Penn State for its shocking failure to rein in the predator in its midst. A few hefty damage awards could send a powerful message not just to Penn State, but to other schools, corporations, and nonprofit organizations where abuse may be occurring.

(MORE: Penn State Coverup: Groupthink in Action)

Anyone whose job it is to balance an institution’s books should look with alarm on the prospect of a child sexual abuse lawsuits. In June, a Northern California jury awarded a woman $28 million — $7 million in compensatory damages, $21 million in punitive — against the Jehovah’s Witnesses for sexual abuse that she suffered as a child at the hands of a fellow congregant. The Sandusky victims could get awards of that size or perhaps even larger. If they have been traumatized for life by their abuse, the compensatory damages could be considerable, covering physical and emotional injuries and lost income.

Punitive damages could also be sizable given Penn State’s woeful response to red flags. University police knewas far back as 1998 that Sandusky had inappropriately touched a boy in the shower, but the football coach was not fired. Child welfare officials investigated Sandusky at the same time, but prosecutors did not bring criminal charges. Even when a university staff member — graduate assistant Mike McQueary — told superiors he had seen Sandusky raping a boy in the shower in 2002, the school failed to take decisive action. And if Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a former senior vice president, who are accused of lying to a grand jury about what McQueary told them and of failing to report the abuse, are convicted of perjury when they go to trial in January, the university may appear even more culpable in the eyes of a jury.

(MORE: How Penn State Can Move Forward)

Under normal circumstances, Penn State might rely on its insurance company to pay the bills, but this is another source of vulnerability. The school’s general liability insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance, is arguing that the school withheld important information that it needed to assess risk and that its policies exclude coverage for sexual abuse. Penn State likely has enough money to handle whatever damages it might owe – with or without insurance – since its endowment stands at almost $2 billion, but still has cause to be worried about the financial hit: President Rodney Erickson told Bloomberg News last week that the school is working with lawyers to develop a process for settling “ideally all” of the suits.

(MORE: Sandusky Verdict: Will Reporting Rates for Sex Abuse Improve?)

For the victims, a settlement would mean they could avoid a trial and would get paid sooner. For Penn State, it would put a predictable cap on how much the school owes — and avoid another damaging round of publicity. For the nation, however, a few civil trials — and some eye-popping damage awards — might be a very good thing. One of the functions of the tort system, in addition to compensating victims, is imposing costs on things society wants to discourage. As the Penn State and Catholic Church scandals have made clear, the calculus for sexual abuse is out of whack. Top officials are still too inclined to look the other way when abuse charges are made and to circle the wagons when one of their own is accused.

It is hard to overcome these biases, but money can be a powerful countervailing force. Civil lawsuits can make people like Jerry Sandusky look less like eccentric colleagues and more like threats to an institution’s financial solvency. Reframing things in those dollars-and-cents terms should make it more likely that complaints of abuse will get the close attention they deserve.

MORE: Jerry Sandusky Verdict: What Makes a Pedophile Tick? 

43 comments
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ryanbagwell
ryanbagwell

Once again, someone confuses something he read in the media with facts. He wants Penn State to be held accountable for a not firing a person who the DA didn't prosecute after a thorough investigation. And he fails to recognize that there is absolutely no evidence that anybody "looked the other way." It's tiring to see people continue to regurgitate the same misguided conclusions.

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

"And if Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a former

senior vice president, who are accused of lying to a grand jury about

what McQueary told them and of failing to report the abuse, are

convicted of perjury when they go to trial in January, the university

may appear even more culpable in the eyes of a jury."

And what are the consequences if they are not guilty?  What if the freeh report turns out to be a complete fraud?  Does the NCAA walk back the sanctions?  Do the accused ever get their reputations back?  The worst case for me would be a plea bargain, because I want the facts to come out under oath, although that would be a big risk for Curley and Schultz.  One more thing, if the freeh report is so sure about its conclusions that the Penn State administrators covered up for sandusky, why hasn't Spanier been indicted?  Certainly a coverup is against some law, it doesn't have to be perjury, like the other two accused admins, but surely there would be something to charge him with............. 

tonylion
tonylion

What do you mean "Freeh report turns out to be a complete fraud"??

It's been totally torn apart by everyone who has reviewed it, including attorneys, judges, facultyetc.

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

 I am agreeing with you.  Rhetorical questions and sarcasm don't always seem to come across on these comment boards.................

tonylion
tonylion

This reporter obviously has not read anything but other reporters who got it all wrong.

quote: "

graduate assistant Mike McQueary — told superiors he had seen Sandusky raping a boy in the shower."McQ never told them anything that was not ambiguous or easily misunderstood, otherwise there wouldn't be a scandal - IDIOT !

George McDowell
George McDowell

It's important to get the name right: Joe Pedo coached the Pedophile State Nittany Liars.

(You'll note that some of them are still lying right below this comment. They like defending child molesters and those that protect child molesters, and they are no better than Joe Pedo himself.)

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

You have a several key facts wrong or misrepresented. The DA and PA Dept.of Public Welfare declared that Sandusky did not commit a crime in 1998 so to hold Penn State liable before 2001 makes no sense.

McQueary got the year wrong. The event he witnessed was 2001, not 2002 as you report.

McQueary never told superiors he saw Sandusky raping a boy in 2001. He testified he never used that word and saw no sexual contact. What exactly he told them is in dispute. All 5 men he told in 2001 remember a much milder version than what he testified to in 2011-2012.

Legally, I don't see how Penn State could or should be held liable for anything before 2001. The 1998 incident was promptly reported and investigated by the police, PA Dept.of Public Welfare and the DA. If the boy's mother wanted to sue, she could have sued in 1998 and exposed Sandusky. Too bad she didn't.

 

Gato Stevens
Gato Stevens

 As I said the weeks after this story broke, they should bankrupt Penn State with law suits.  The lawyers should join forces and class action some of the boys attacked and individually sue with others. 

  Saying they are covered with their 2 billion dollars I say let the juries decide that.  Tear down that building of lies and abuse.

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

 You would have been a big hit at the Salem witch trials.  "Let's burn the witch.  If she's really a witch, she'll put the fire out.  If she's not a witch, she oughta burn real good."  There is no proof that Penn State's administrators did anything other than what they were supposed to do, no matter how much you hate what happened (and believe me I hate it too).  The freeh report is not conclusive, and because the board acted hastily, there will be even more lawsuits than there needed to be.  The NCAA is not a criminal justice organization, and should not even be involved.  What's next, a parking attendant comes back to the stadium to steal a car and the school is found to have lost 'institutional control' of the parking lot?  

Let the real police do a real investigation and send it to a real courtroom where people have to testify under oath and then be angry about it.  At least you'll be mad at the guilty parties and not just the people that you 'think' are guilty. 

How much do you think Spanier, Curley, Schultz and the Paterno estate will get if it turns out the (fact) freeh report really is nothing more than assumptions and speculation?  We need the truth.  We have had enough hysteria by now.  The truth will set you freeh............

mouthbreather11111
mouthbreather11111

it should also be noted that Louis Freeh (the source of "facts" for the lazy media) did not interview the following people for his "report":

1)  Mike McQueary

2) Joe Paterno

3) Tim Curley

4) Gary Schultz

5) Graham Spanier

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

Freeh failed to interview lots of key people. He could have interviewed Paterno had he made it a priority.

He did interview Spanier but at the last minute, probably after the report was finished or nearly finished. Not much of Spanier's interview is in the report.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

Freeh interviewed me.  They did not care to hear the facts of my story, but asked generalized questions regarding the climate of Penn State.  I agree with their generalized findings in that Penn State's PROCEDURE  was simply to cover up anything and everything, no matter the cost, that brought negative speculation upon the reputation of Penn State University. In 1999 I wrote a letter, by the suggestion of Jose Texidor, attorney and Student Advocate, advising Penn State University Graham Spanier about the incredible issues I was going through involving a very unjust decision regarding my education at the University and the fact that my active child care clearances were never put in place (30 days after DPW learned of the Sandusky allegations). Despite the fact that I appealed every possible adverse decision, obvious attempts were made to conceal any effort to focus on childcare clearances. In fact, because of my persistence, the entire scandal was used as a means to discipline me in my Penn State employment because of my using PSU student email to communicate to President Spanier and gain the support of those with similar civil rights issues. President Spanier may have removed himself from these concerns, so for the record, it was not that he had no knowledge of some very questionable decisions made by Penn State. Combine this, with the fact that during my employment at PSU, two years prior to this unjust educational decision, I was forced to give a verbal summary of Jerry Sandusky entering a dormitory with a young boy, it adds much speculation as to what additional coverup tactics occurred throughout this incredible series of events.

mouthbreather11111
mouthbreather11111

It's amazing how no one in the media has gotten the facts right here:

1)  The 98 case was reviewed by multiple agencies outside of PSU and no charges were brought against Sandusky.  What was PSU supposed to do then?

2)  Mike McQueary testified that he never witnessed rape (that charge was found not guilty by the way).  Dr Jack Dranov, friend McQuery's father, testified that he asked  three separate times if what he witnessed was sexual and McQueary said "NO".   Is it reasonable to believe that if he wasn't forthcoming with his dad and dad's friend that he was anymore forthcoming with Joe Paterno or Tim Curley or Gary Schultz? 

3)  Mike McQueary originally got the YEAR wrong of the incident.  If you witnessed something that serious, how could you not remember it?! 

4)  Mike McQueary did not come forward with this info.  He made some references to an incident on message boards (of all places) and police received an annonymous tip about it in 2010 or 11.  Why was he bantering on message boards about something so horrific? (unless what he witnessed in 2001 errr 2002 wasn't the same as he testified in 2011 and he in fact never really saw anything more than something that didn't seem right)

The thought that there was a cover-up is absurd.  But keep gobbling what the ignorant media is feeding you.

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

This article's title is an understatement.  Yes, the first trial is over, and the next two and potentially three are due early next year.  Yes, the victims and their attorneys are lining up to win compensation.  What happens if after this next round of legal action it is determined that the freeh report doesn't stand up?  He couldn't interview 11 central people, and he readily admitted to having to make "reasonable assumptions."  Would Spanier, Curley, Schultz and the Paterno estate sue freeh, the board of trustees, and/or the school itself?  Clearly their reputations have been damaged.  The "authority" who is changing his stance is the state investigator.  Is he feeling the heat for missing the warning signs in 1998?  Is the NCAA liable for acting on what may be mis-information?   Not only has this just begun, I would submit that there is no end in sight.

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

 Generally, you can't sue for libel of a dead person so I doubt Paterno's family has much legal recourse.

The federal Dept. of Justice should be investigating Second Mile and the 1998 incident. I suspect that someone above the DA and within or above the Dept.of Public Welfare pulled strings for Sandusky in 1998. His Second Mile Board was full of big wigs.

Attorney General Corbett apparently made clear he wasn't interested in prosecuting the Sandusky case when he got it in 2009. That's why it took so long to bring charges.

One wonders if they also pulled strings to protect Sandusky, what other pedophiles have they protected in PA?

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

 And allegedly, it was Governor Corbett who, as the board was discussing the firing of Paterno, and some of the board members were struggling with it, was quoted as saying, "just remember those little boys" and in so many words do it for them...............  in 2011.  Where was all of his concern in 2009? 

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

thanks Tim.  There are actually a whole lot of things that I want to know, after doing some internet searching.  Is sandusky the 'pa football coach' that was referenced in the Franklin coverup from Nebraska?  What is sandusky's relationship with eddie savitz from philly?  what is sandusky's relationship with the prep school football coach from CT.  Are the pols from PA involved?  Am I the only one who thinks that sending the second mile cases to a charity in TX that is owned by a guy from where?  Altoona, PA, which is where?  20 miles from state college, pa, is possibly a red flag?  I am hoping against hope that the feds are on this for more than just Cleary Act and Title IX violations. I don't think sandusky acted alone.  I think there is a fair amount of brains and money that was backing him and i want them all hunted down and  stopped.  The Penn State and Joe Paterno chatter is nothing more than a convenient diversion for the real bad guys, in my opinion.

richard3_4
richard3_4

Yale Law huh. If I ever need  a lawyer I'll be sure to hire a Harvard man. Reading is your friend. McQueary never said he witnessed a rape. He said he heard slapping sounds. He never saw anal sex. Now not the I completely blame you, the PA Attorney General made the same incorrect statement and the media ran with it. Nothing llike letting the facts stand in the way of sensationalizing a story.

smokeybandit
smokeybandit

There's so much false information in this report that I had to make sure I wasn't reading an article from the National Enquirer.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

Please disregard the first paragraph duplication of my earlier post.  Unfortunately, editing had been disabled.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

There seems to be certain preset parameters of what the media will put out to the public, and what any investigations have revealed. I worked at Main Campus for two years, between 1994 and 1996. I may very well have been among one of the first to make a verbal report about the JS allegations, without my even having had knowledge of it. I was called into my Supervisor's office and made to give a report about a man and a boy coming into a residence hall building. Did I witness anything criminal, no, but there was some obvious type of reprimand session going on between the two. I was just as baffled by being called into the office, as I was when leaving, being reassured this had nothing to do with my work performance and that this man, who I thought must have been a grandparent visiting a resident, must have voiced a complaint. It is likely I was among the first to make a verbal report regarding any first allegations about Jerry Sandusky, but I didn't know who he was until many years later. I, like the others who didn't know what was going on, or what to believe, was employed at Penn State as a janitor. During part of the investigative process, I was asked if I felt Penn State University would retaliate against an individual who revealed negative information about the university.  And I have to say it is fair to call that a GIVEN. As Joe Paterno said, the University had a PROCEDURE, and that procedure was the absence of one. Since I was later removed from a Penn State degree program when entering my fourth year of Penn State education, and was terminated by the univeristy after filing written complaints with the US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, I'd say I've been feeling that retaliation, and had a good bit of my share. My federal court case was dismissed by a Judge who has received a Penn State Honorary Alumni award, and considered my lawsuit "frivolous", after unscrupulous attorneys twisted the suit into a sexual harassment suit. Justice, which was an over $100,000 in direct out of my pocket cost, never existed.

The formal accusation used to remove me from my degree program was that I had violated a rule, a confidentiality violation.  The rules were not clearly defined, other students were also uncertain and had done exactly the same thing, and this was applied in a general use, verses a specific use-where any jury would quickly determine the rule had been mis-applied.  This occurred within 30 days of the Pa Dept of Welfare learning they had a child sexual predator problem with children under their watch and working with Penn State University. Interestingly, I had been sent to a fieldwork site without my active state mandatory childcare clearances in place, an oversight by Penn State University and the degree program I was removed from. Are there other victims of the Jerry Sandusky allegations that Penn State should have to make amends to?  Should the Pa Dept of Welfare face the music and the consequences of their own violations?  There is something very drastically wrong with ethical reasoning in the state of Pennsylvania, and God help us by the time honest politicans can finally fix the massive coverup.

ryanbagwell
ryanbagwell

You seem pretty credible to me, but I'd like to know more about what you witnessed, and what actions your supervisor took in response to your report.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

I saw nothing criminal occur. I saw the two come in and sit down in a study lounge. It appeared the man was having some type of a reprimand session with the boy, and told him to take a seat. Neither one of them appeared to say much to the other. It was obvious the boy was angry. I assumed he had just been scolded, judging from the way he was acting.

I didn't know what the supervisor's response was to what I told her, or what prompted her asking. I thought, surely, there must have been a complaint about something I was unaware of. She dismissed me after she had her answers. Her questions were clearly leading to some type of a confirmation, or a denial, of wrongdoing. She was very serious. Penn State did not provide any further information.

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

I can't make much sense of the above. What exactly did you witness between Sandusky and a boy in 1994 to 1996?

If you have a valid story, why not tell it to a reporter and get it published. It doesn't have much credibility in this forum.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

In response to one of your later comments---yes, it would seem reporters would very much want to write "my story" assuming they saw it as "credible".  But when one has already taken the road to Federal Court, and lost, mostly because of unscrupulous attorneys with conflicts of interest twisting the facts, and Judges so willing to dismiss a case against Penn State University as "lacking merit" and "frivolous", one's credibility takes a toll.  Had we known more about the hidden motive of the University, and their defense team, including attorney Wendell Courtney, and the efforts to hide all facts regarding the absense of child care clearances  with the State Dept of Welfare, the outcome would have been very much different.  I have just been denied reopening my case, and would have to appeal that decision in the Supreme Court of Pa.  Is that not newsworthy?  Evidently not, when all the newspapers are gropping for Penn State's business

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

Mr Berton,

You have missed the point.

It isnt about what I witnessed, it was about being made out to be the witness and the consequences that followed.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

It isnt the story reporters want.

The timeline is too far back.

Im not offended by your credibility comments.

This forum is as good of a place as any.

As with any true story:

All truth passes through three stages.

First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

 No offense intended but if the Sandusky investigators interviewed you and found you credible, I would think that a reporter would be interested in your story given the huge interest in the Sandusky case.

xzaebos
xzaebos

If he committed a crime, then there is a crime. The trail should be conducted, and hopefully the truth will come out. People need to realize that boys and men aren't always into being touched and that they don't deserve to be violated or exploited sexually.

Caroline Redbrook
Caroline Redbrook

Steve - You would think that YOU would get the basic facts first.  In 1998, the psychiatrist and the agent both said that they thought there were grounds against Sandusky.  The DA reportedly complained bitterly to his nephew that Penn State was stymying the investigation.  Then, according to sources, it was Penn State who provided a "second opinion" which was given by a then un-certified person who decided Sandusky's actions were "horseplay".  The authorities were provided only this information and not that of the certified psychiatrist and the agent.  So what could they decide?!  The authorities have now stated that had they been provided that information they would have found cause for legal action against Sandusky.

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

DA Ray Gricar had plenty of authority and evidence to charge Sandusky in 1998. How could Penn State stymy his investigation?

Gricar could have kept the investigation open. He could have interviewed some of the probably hundreds of boys Sandusky fostered or mentored through Second Mile.

He could have interviewed Paterno,  Sandusky's boss to put Paterno on alert that Sandusky was a potential pedophile.

He could have brought in an out-of-state expert on pedophilia to assure he had someone unbiased to evaluate the case.

He could have easily charged Sandusky just to expose him publicly as a pedophile.

I think Gricar covered up for Sandusky in 1998 on orders from above, possibly the Attorney General, not due to pressure from Penn State.

MJ
MJ

Caroline where have you heard that the DA complained that Penn State was stymying the case. Penn State turned it over to the DA and to the CYS. IT was not Penn State that provided a second opinion it was DPW.Please get your facts straight. The information was mysteriously lost somewhere at CYS or DPW. How about Second Mile? They had a very strong monetary relationship with the county and CYS? Did you ever think that maybe they were the ones that help squash the investigation . You need to know more information that is out there and you will see that trained professionals missed Sandusky's pedophile tendencies. Yet a football coach who was 73 years old was suppose to do more when Sandusky was an ex employee and had nothing to do with football program. Please!!!!!

Chris Brown
Chris Brown

Caroline, the police in 1998 witnessed Sandusky telling the boy's mom "I wish I were dead." I don't know what else they'd have needed to go forward with a prosecution. There are at least 20 people, if not more, who failed the kids in this entire sad fiasco. What is obvious in retrospect was less obvious to the participants (except for Sandusky himself) at the time of these crimes. The author of this piece is right; we as a nation need a change of mindset. Too often things are not quite right in the workplace, and people look the other way because the nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered.

smokeybandit
smokeybandit

Except no one ever accused Sandusky of doing anything illegal in 1998.  No one.   And the "I wish I were dead" quote came in context of him being upset that he may have caused the kid to feel uncomfortable around him. 

Chris Brown
Chris Brown

police were physically present in the next room while Sandusky apologized to the mom at her house. charges were most certainly considered as a result of this 1998 case. ultimately, they weren't pursued.

Tim Berton
Tim Berton

The mother had more than enough evidence to have sued Sandusky in 1998 and either gotten a big settlement or have exposed him publicly as a at least a weirdo around boys.

One wonders why she didn't or maybe she did get a settlement from Sandusky. Perhaps that is why he needed to retire in 1999 and take a 6-figure payout from his pension. 

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

 Caroline, the only person who is changing his story is the state's investigator.  The DA, Gricar, disappeared, leaving behind only his car and his damaged latptop.  Don't be surprised how many other people start staking out their fallback positions as the real truth comes out under oath, at trial, and not in sync with the waste of time and money freeh report.  "The authorities" had every opportunity to do their job. 

Steve
Steve

You would think if you teach at Yale Law School that having the basic facts of the case would be important.  In 1998, Sandusky was investigated by the police AND the Pennsylvania Dept of Welfare -- who told PSU administrators that no crime occurred.  What, exactly, was PSU supposed to do then?

Dan Withers
Dan Withers

And the shower incident McQ witnessed was in 2001, not 2002.

DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses
DeliverMeMyRoseColoredGlasses

I think it worthy to mention that all these events were years ago, and it is very difficult to relay the exact time and dates.  This does not necessarily mean the source is not credible.