Governor Sununu has just signed into law the creation of a fund of $100,000,000 to be used to compensate hundreds of victims of physical and sexual assaults at the Youth Development Center in Manchester. Ten former YDC employees have been criminally charged.
An arbitrator will decide the amounts per claimant, but victims must opt out of going to court for a jury trial.
The idea is similar to many mass tort settlement funds such as the World Trade Center and the Boy Scouts that were created to avoid years and years of litigation and appeals. Because each plaintiff has suffered different physical or sexual abuse, a single settlement in a consumer product class action is not permitted due to the wide variety of claims.
A few years ago, more than 70 women at Dartmouth College settled a $14 million sexual assault and harassment class action lawsuit. Again, the other lawyers and I set up a system to pay different amounts to each affected person depending on the severity of the damage suffered. The numbers correspond to the number of applicants for the $100 million YDC fund and its total amount.
The YDC fund is a compromise between speed and some compensation, rather than years in the court system waiting to see what 12 people on a jury might decide. It is not perfect and will not fully compensate some of those harmed. Those who are young enough may be willing to wait years for the hundreds of trials that separate them from their day in court and avoid the funding process.
How will the Fund handle complaints?
First, a neutral attorney will be chosen by the state Supreme Court to serve as the trustee of the fund. This person must be approved by the Attorney General and the plaintiffs’ attorneys and will receive the same salary as a Superior Court judge if working full time.
Claim forms, procedures and settlement guidelines will be determined by the Attorney General. As was done 20 years ago in negotiations with the Diocese of Manchester by the handful of us representing victims of sexual assault by priests, we have developed a matrix to help put a monetary value on the cases depending on the nature of the abuse, frequency and duration, and aggravating factors. This will result in claims being grouped into values and ranges for the different types of abuse at the YDC.
For anyone who has suffered sexual and physical abuse, there is a cap or limit of $1,500,000, but for physical abuse only, the limit is $150,000 in total per person.
When can complaints be filed?
By November 1 of this year, the person chosen as the administrator will post a notice stating that applicants can begin filing applications as of January 1, 2023. Any former YDC resident can then file an application, but no family members or parent will have standing. to file a claim for any distress they have suffered as a result of a parent’s abuse at the YDC. There is a two-year window for filing claims from January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2024.
Filing a claim is voluntary, but claimants who have filed a lawsuit (as about 500 have done so) must waive the legal process for the Funds Arbitration Scheme and cannot return to court if they do so. they don’t like the result. The process, unlike going to court, is confidential, but the claimant may be interviewed by an investigator.
In the cases of priests of the Catholic Church, all of my clients have been interviewed as part of this process set up to resolve claims without going through the courts. No claims have been denied based on the 50 or so cases I have handled.
If a YDC claim is negotiated and settled, the claimant will have resolved the case much faster than what could have been done in court. If the claim cannot be settled with the Attorney General’s office, it will be forwarded to the administrator for an arbitration hearing under as yet unsubstantiated rules for a three-hour hearing.
Lawyers representing plaintiffs will be limited to no more than one-third contingency fee on the amount recovered. The $100,000,000 fund will last until June 30, 2032.
While not a perfect solution, the state owes the victims a quick and fair resolution to tragedies that should never have happened to them.
Chuck Douglas is a former Supreme Court Justice who practices law in Concord.
This article originally appeared on the Portsmouth Herald: Douglas: Youth Development Center’s $100m fund will work for many victims.