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Clergy Abuse Victims, Once Barred from Filing Suit, May Now Seek Justice

A woman who was sexually abused as a child by Reverend Charles Bodziak of St. Leo’s Church was previously barred from seeking justice, because the time period for her to file her lawsuit had expired. Because Bodziak allegedly molested Renée Rice in the 1970s and 80s, the trial court dismissed her lawsuit based on precedent and the statute of limitations. However, following the 2018 Investigative Grand Jury Report led by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Rice can now pursue her lawsuit against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and others who protected Bodziak.

Reopening the ‘Courthouse Doors’

A unanimous Superior Court panel reversed the decision, overcoming what was once a lapse in the statute of limitations. They cited Nicolaou v. Martin, a 2018 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that emphasized that it’s up to the jury to decide whether a plaintiff made reasonable efforts to investigate a defendant in order to suspend the statute of limitations.
For personal injury cases in Pennsylvania, a cause of action – which is the basis for filing a law suit – arises when someone sustains an injury. However, the discovery rule, when applicable, delays the time limit until the plaintiff finds out (or should have known) about the injury and that the defendant caused that injury.

Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown

In this case, the Court found that, “prior to the Grand Jury Report, no police force, district attorney’s office, or governmental agency investigated the Diocesan Defendants for this diocese-wide, child-sexual-abuse scandal. None of the Commonwealth’s prosecutors, investigators, or child-protection departments discovered the Diocesan Defendants’ alleged conduct for over 50 years.”

As a result, the Court could not conclude fairly that Rice failed to discover that the defendants’ intentional acts caused her harm. The Court ruled that, “Whether Ms. Rice exercised reasonable diligence, prior to the release of the Grand Jury Report, is a factual question over which reasonable minds might differ.”

The Court also held that Rice’s fraudulent concealment claim – a suit she filed separately from the claim against Bodziak – may toll the statute of limitations. Rice sued the Diocese, Bishop Adamec, and Monsignor Michael Servinsky a few months after suing Bodziak, alleging that they committed fraud, constructive fraud, and civil conspiracy to protect Bodziak and their reputations. The Court found that the statute did not begin to run until January 2016 at the earliest, which is when the Grand Jury Report was released.

Victims Should Contact Ostroff Law, Even if the Abuse Was Decades Ago

Contact our firm to learn about your options if you were a victim of abuse by a clergy member or a loved one experienced elder abuse. No matter your age when you suffered the abuse, you may still be able to seek justice. There is no fee for us to discuss this with you or for us to investigate the issue of whether you still have the right to pursue a sexual abuse claim against the diocese. Call today (800) 688-6489 for a free and confidential consultation with our experienced sexual abuse lawyers.

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