By Sean Walton
The Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy, seeking protection from a wave of sexual abuse lawsuits filed by men and boys who say the organization failed to protect them as Scouts.
The monumental filing seeks to reckon with all abuse claims at once in a final court process. By seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the national umbrella of the Boy Scouts signaled that it hopes to survive after compensating what are expected to be thousands of victims.
The move, while expected, is unprecedented. Never before has such a large and established nationwide youth nonprofit filed for bankruptcy. The organization filed the court papers Tuesday just after midnight local time in Delaware, where the case will work its way through a federal bankruptcy court.
The path to the proceedings can be traced back a decade to Portland, victims’ lawyers say. A Multnomah County jury awarded $19.9 million damages to a Portland man abused as a Scout. It was the largest verdict against the group in its long history. The trial also triggered the public release of internal files kept for decades that revealed the identifies and crimes of hundreds of known abusers.
“If the files were not released, the Boy Scouts would have, I think, been able to weather the storm,” said Paul Mones, one of the lead attorneys on the case.
The files informed thousands of former Scouts about the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in the organization and the extent of the group’s knowledge, he said. The records prompted hundreds of lawsuits, including several in Oregon.
But statutes of limitations precluded many former Scouts from filing legal claims. That changed recently when lawmakers in the populous states of California, New York and New Jersey opened a window for victims to sue regardless of when they were abused. A flood of claims followed.
The bankruptcy case will halt active lawsuits and, according to lawyers familiar with bankruptcy proceedings, will likely prevent future litigation tied to past abuse.
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