Child Abuse Case Nets $28 Million Judgment

October 1, 2012

Misc. Topics, Wrongful Death

jury verdictA 26-year-old woman was recently awarded $28 million by a California jury for damages she sustained when she was molested multiple times by an adult member of her church in 1995 and 1996.

Twenty-one million dollars of the award was punitive damages and will apply only to the two corporate defendants in the case.  The remaining award of $130,000 for future counseling and $6.8 million for non-economic damages was apportioned by the jury with 60% liability to the accused molester, Jonathan Kendrick.

The plaintiff, known only as Jane Doe in court documents, was 9 and 10 years old when the incidents occurred.  She was a member of North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah Witnesses in Fremont, CA.  Her molester had a history of child sexual abuse which the plaintiff claimed was known to church hierarchy who failed to notify the congregation or take preventative action to keep Kendrick away from children.

The victim originally sued Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, other governing church bodies, and Kendrick.  She alleged that Kendrick had committed sexual assault and battery and that the defendant church organizations provided negligent supervision by failing to protect a child. (The governing church bodies named in the suit, except for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and the Fremont Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, were dismissed from the suit prior to trial.)

Kendrick was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery in 1994 following a 1993 incident when he touched his 15-year-old stepdaughter’s breasts.  At that time Kendrick was in “ministerial services” at the church, but was removed from that position after the battery  charges were made.  However, the plaintiff said the church followed a “corporate policy of secrecy” regarding any abuses perpetrated by church members.

Plaintiff’s counsel produced a July 1, 1989 letter to Fremont congregants which told members to keep all personal information secret, especially information mentioning the sexual abuse of a child.

The church contended that many members were being sued for slander and thus, the church was stressing confidentiality in personal matters.  Such a policy is required by their religion, the Jehovah Witness leadership maintained.  Members also said they acted appropriately after the first incident involving Kendrick because they removed him from his ministerial position.

The church also argued that plaintiff’s parents, the Fremont Police Department and Child Protective Services were partially liable because they never notified the church of the investigation of the 1993 charge or the conviction.  Motions defendants filed to allow the jury to consider apportioning liability to these non-parties were denied.

Nine witnesses, including the plaintiff’s parents, three church elders, four mothers and grandmothers—all members of the Jehovah congregation—testified that they did not see any abuse, suspicious activity or the plaintiff leaving the church with Kendrick in Kendrick’s vehicle.

Witnesses for the plaintiff testified concerning Kendrick’s inappropriate actions with the victim during church events which they observed.

In her lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed she suffered from chronic anxiety, depression and severe post-traumatic stress disorder that led to alcohol and drug abuse.   She said she first sought treatment in 2006 and claimed she currently needed an intensive care program that would cost $160,000 to rehabilitate herself.

The plaintiff sought recovery for past and future pain and suffering and asked the jury to award her $21 million in punitive damages.  It honored her request.

Defendants said they plan to file a motion for judgment not withstanding the verdict and a motion for a new trial.  They also plan to appeal the handling of jury instructions during the trial and the denial of motions to allocate fault to non-parties.  Defendants have also made allegations of insufficient evidence to support the punitive damages award.

The year 2012 has seen some jury verdicts even larger than this young woman’s intentional tort case.

Apple, Inc. was the winner of a one billion dollar award by a California jury against Samsung Electronics Co. in August.  Also in August, a Missouri jury awarded one billion dollars to the Monsanto Co. who had sued E.I. DuPont De Nemours and Co.

The top ten verdicts of 2011 (of those verdicts reported to Verdict Watch) was led by a $150 billion judgment in a wrongful death suit, the largest in U.S. history. A Texas jury awarded the sum to the family of a boy who sustained fatal burns after being doused with gasoline and set afire (Middleton v. Collins).

If you have a legal issue in Ohio, please contact the Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP for a free consultation by calling 1-888-534-4850 or send a message from the website: slaterzurz.com.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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One Comment on “Child Abuse Case Nets $28 Million Judgment”

  1. Danny Haszard Says:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have many issues with sexual molestation of children.The religion and its members are more concerned about protecting the group image than the victims.

    TWO WITNESSES required.
    The Jehovah’s Witnesses require ‘two witnesses’ to a crime or it didn’t happen,you are supposed to ‘leave it in
    Jehovah’s hands’ wait on the lord.
    How many pedophiles allow an eyewitness?
    These people engage in a door to door ministry, possibly exposing children to pedophiles.
    The Watchtower corporation has paid out millions in settlement money already.

    Danny Haszard *tell the truth don’t be afraid* FMI dannyhaszard(dot)com

    Reply

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