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Record Punitive Damage Award in Sex Abuse Case Against Catholic Church

Posted in: Blog, Case Summaries, Verdicts/Settlements // Written on behalf of Cuming & Gillespie
May 3, 2018

Last week a Toronto jury awarded Rod MacLeod (“MacLeod”) the largest punitive damage award by a civil (i.e. non-criminal) jury in a sexual-abuse case against the Catholic Church in Canada.

MacLeod, who was sexually molested 50 years ago by a priest who taught and coached boys across Ontario, was awarded $2.6 million in damages. This award included $500,000 in punitive damages against the Congregation of St. Basil (a Toronto-based Roman Catholic religious order) for the deplorable actions of deceased priest William Hodgson Marshall (“Marshall”).

WHY DID THE JURY AWARD PUNITIVE DAMAGES?

Damages are monetary results that are awarded by a court in a civil action to an individual who has been injured or suffered harm as a result of the wrongful conduct of another party.

Punitive damages are used in civil actions only in exceptional circumstances for particularly egregious conduct. This specific type of damages are intended to punish a particularly disgraceful action and prevent similar future behaviour by the wrongdoer and society at large. The Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Whiten v. Pilot Insurance Co. stated that “[t]he test thus limits the award to misconduct that represents a marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.”

WHAT HAPPENED?

MacLeod was a student in the 1960s at Sudbury, Ontario’s all-boys St. Charles High School, which was run by the Basilians. Marshall gave evidence in court that he had been abused during the four years he was at school, beginning when he was 13-years old, in various locations including empty classrooms, the priest’s residence and away from school grounds.

Evidence that was presented to the jury described how Marshall had abused MacLeod 50 times between 1963 and 1967 while he was a student in high school and Marshall was a priest and gym teacher.

Marshall was a member of the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, a Roman Catholic religious order. Complaints were made about Marshall to his superiors as far back as 1947, when he was training to become a priest. Despite these allegations, Marshall was not disciplined and the police were not made aware of his transgressions. Marshall was allowed to continue as a priest and was transferred throughout his career after such reports. He served in Rochester (New York), Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie throughout his career.

Marshall was sent by the Basilians to treatment centres in 1978, 1979 and 1996.

Marshall admitted to a Basilian superior in 1996 that he had sexually abused two or three high school boys every year during a 29-year teaching period (between 58 and 87 victims).

In 2011, Marshall was convicted of indecently assaulting 17 minors and was sentenced to two years in jail and an additional six months of house arrest for two counts of sexual assault that he pleaded guilty to in Saskatchewan in 2013. He died in 2014 at the age of 92.

Following a three week trial, the jury, made up of four women and two men, awarded MacLeod $2,570,181, broken down as follows:

  • $350,000 in general damages;
  • $75,000 in aggravated damages;
  • $1,588,781 in lump sum income loss;
  • $56,400 for special damages; and
  • $500,000 in punitive damages.

The jury provided a written list specifically defining why it was awarding punitive damages in this case. The reasons listed included:

  • The Basilians behaviour was a “silent shuffle to divert in conjunction with complaints” to avoid scandal;
  • The Basilians neglected to document offences;
  • The Basilians were “grossly negligent” by putting children in harm’s way;
  • There was no reconciliation with victims; and
  • There was a betrayal of trust in the community.

MacLeod, a former Canadian army captain and current registered massage therapist, was pleased with the jury’s verdict and stated:

My whole focus was to establish punitives as a method to forestall any more sex abuse, [and] setting this precedent I think will do that.

SEXUAL ABUSE AND PERSONAL INJURY

When an individual has been sexually abused, they may pursue a claim through the criminal courts and/or through civil action. In the criminal realm, a Crown lawyer will prosecute the case and the accused will face fines or jail time, if convicted. If the victim wishes to seek personal compensation for the injuries sustained, they may do so by filing a personal injury claim in civil court.

Under personal injury law, victims may receive compensation for any medical expenses (including services of a psychiatrist/psychologist), loss of income and for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. As discussed above, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the defendant and deter future misconduct.

A victim may commence their civil claim against more than one defendant, depending on the circumstances. For example, if an individual was sexually assaulted while residing in an institution by an employee, they may commence a lawsuit against both the employee and the institution.

Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers will continue to monitor this case and report any new developments in relation to whether the Defendants choose to file an appeal.

At Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers, we can help you identify the personal injury compensation types you are entitled to under the law. If you or a loved one have suffered a serious personal injury, you may be entitled to compensation for the damages you have suffered. Please contact the award winning lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers either online or by calling 403-571-0555. We can get started with a free case evaluation and are dedicated to providing you with the legal help you deserve.

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