With former Pennsylvania State University coach Jerry Sandusky behind bars for child sex abuse, the university has given an unusual signal that it wants to wrap up civil suits as fast as possible, legal observers said on Saturday.
Shortly after Sandusky, 68, was convicted late on Friday of 45 counts of sexual abuse, the university invited victims to try to resolve claims against the school.
“The purpose of the program is simple — the university wants to provide a forum where the university can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims’ concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the university,” it said in a statement.
Sandusky’s conviction clears a hurdle for potentially big-ticket civil suits since abuse victims suing the school now can point to a crime that was committed, the observers said.
At least two civil suits have been filed already against the school, both in Philadelphia. A filing by Sandusky’s lawyers last month put the number of potential victims at almost 20.
Max Kennerly, a Philadelphia lawyer who has handled sex abuse cases, said the university’s statement was unusual.
The move is a sign Penn State is willing to stay away from the “usual pattern of deny, delay, defend — the ‘three Ds’ of corporate insurance defense,” he said.
Penn State’s potential damage from civil suits could become clearer with a criminal case against the school’s former athletic director, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, the former vice president for finance and business.
A former assistant coach, Mike McQueary, testified he told late head coach Joe Paterno, Curley and Schultz about a 2001 incident in which Sandusky abused a boy.
Curley and Schultz face charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse in an alleged cover-up of the incident.
“Schultz and Curley will tell us a lot more about what Penn State knew about Sandusky’s pedophilia,” Kennerly said.
Penn State had US$4.6 billion in operating revenue reported for the last fiscal year and an endowment topping US$1.8 billion.
The university is involved in a legal battle with its main liability insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co, over who should pay for any civil suits in the Sandusky scandal.
The school has already spent US$7.6 million because of the scandal, it said on its Web site.