Although no civil law suits have yet been filed against Penn State in the growing sex abuse scandal, there is certainly no doubt that they will be coming down the road. People have asked legal questions about these cases, and we try to answer some of the most common questions here.
1. What is the statute of limitations on these claims? - It depends on when the abuse occurred. If the incident with the victim happened before late June 2002, then the child typically would have until the age of twenty (20) to file a legal claim. If the abuse happened after late June 2002, the victim would have until age thirty (30).
The reason for this distinction is because the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania was changed and made longer as of late June 2002. Incidentally, the most highly publicized of the many incidents at Penn State - - - the one that allegedly occurred in the shower at the football facilities - - - occurred in the Spring of 2002 and, therefore, that victim would have only until age twenty to bring a legal claim.
2. Does Penn State have immunity from legal claims because they a state school? - The short answer to this is no. Although many state institutions have immunity (That is a legal term that means they cannot be sued.) that usually only applies to agencies that are 100% government related. Although Penn State, like the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University, receives some state funds, they are not a state institution or a state-owned school. Therefore, they do not have immunity from the law suits that will be filed by the victims.
3. What sorts of damages can the victims claim? - The law suits will seek damages for physical harm as well as the emotional toll of the abuse. Those are called compensatory damages because they are meant to compensate the individual for what they have gone through. The amount any victim is entitled to receive could vary from person to person depending on the extent of the abuse and the effect it had on them. Those awards could be quite large.
In addition to compensatory damages, the victims could also claim punitive damages. That is a monetary award not necessarily related to the harm suffered by the victim but instead a separate amount designed to punish the institution. In order to receive punitive damages, the victim would need to prove that Penn State's conduct was outrageous and reckless.
4. Who will pay the damages? - Penn State likely has liability insurance that would apply to compensatory damages be owed to victims. It is not clear exactly how much such insurance Penn State has and whether or not it is sufficient to cover all of the claims.
If punitive damages are awarded, it is likely that Penn State does not have insurance to cover those amounts.
Therefore, any amounts not covered by insurance, either for compensatory or punitive damages, would have to be paid out of the University's own general funds.
5. Could the individual Penn State employees have to pay damages to the victims? - Certainly there could be damage awards entered against any of the individuals, but they may not have money to cover those claims. The University, however, would be responsible to pay on their behalf because their bad acts occurred while they were on the job.