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L.A. Priest-Abuse Payout Could Soar

Aug 30, 2004 | Los Angeles Times

Damages claimed by hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests could exceed $1.5 billion in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, far more than any other diocese has paid to date, according to newly released documents.

That total is based on a request by the lead lawyer for plaintiffs that insurers put aside at least $3.1 million per individual claimant to resolve child-molestation cases involving the dioceses of Los Angeles and Orange. There are more than 500 child-molestation claims naming Los Angeles-area priests and 60 more alleging abuse by Diocese of Orange priests.

A attorney for the plaintiffs says the amount is justified based on jury verdicts and settlements of other clergy sexual-abuse lawsuits across the United States. He says it is also consistent with a Los Angeles judge's secret valuation of the local claims after a closed evidentiary hearing earlier this year.

The dimensions of those key questions if claimants win, how much they can collect and from whom were revealed last week in letters to the insurers. Most of the proceedings in the consolidated cases, designed to settle once and for all the potential liability for the two dioceses, are held in secret.

The amount that insurers are willing to pay has already emerged as a stumbling block to pretrial settlements in the first wave of cases, the 60 against the Orange Diocese. The claims against the diocese could reach at least $186 million if the $3.1 million-valuation method prevailed.

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