First Lawsuit Brought Against Penn State, Second Mile, Sandusky

We knew this would be the next shoe to fall, and the only question was when–when the tide would turn from a criminal investigation into a wave of civil lawsuits against Penn State.

The first was filed yesterday in Philadelphia, by a Minnesota lawyer, on behalf of a “John Doe” who was not among the eight alleged victims listed in the Grand Jury presentment.

According to the suit, the individual was sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky “over one hundred times” during a time span from 1992 to 1996, starting when the boy was 10 years old, and when Sandusky was Penn State’s defensive coordinator. The abuses are alleged to have occurred in the Penn State football locker room, and in locations associated with Penn State bowl trips. Sandusky allegedly threatened to harm the boy or his family if he “told anyone about the abuse.”

The suit names Sandusky, Penn State, and The Second Mile as defendants, the latter two because “Penn State and Second Mile were each in a specialized position where each had knowledge that the Plaintiff did not. Each was in a position to have this knowledge because it was Sandusky’s employer and/or because each was responsible for Sandusky.” It asks for $50,000 in each of eight charges, for compensatory and punitive damages.

I am not a lawyer (yet), so my analysis of the suit is going to be highly rudimentary. But a few things stuck out to me while reading the complaint:

In terms of when the abuses are said to have occurred, this is the earliest allegation against Sandusky. Of the eight cases mentioned in the presentment, the earliest contact was alleged to have began in “1994 or 1995.”

Neither Joe Paterno nor any individual associated with Penn State is named in the suit, but that shouldn’t mean JoePa is out of the woods just yet. Paterno isn’t alleged to have learned of any potential abuse by Sandusky until 2002, so while a suit from an individual abused after that time might be able to claim negligence on his part, one from a decade earlier would be hard-pressed to prove Paterno knew of abuses and failed to act.

According to the suit, Penn State (as well as the Second Mile) “knew or should have known” that Sandusky posed a threat. As such, it brings charges of more than just negligence, but of “intentional misrepresentation” and “civil conspiracy to endanger children.”

In the former charge, the suit claims that Penn State “affirmatively represented to Plaintiff and his family that Sandusky did not have a history of molestation,” and that Penn State lied when it indicated that its “it had sufficient policies and proceudres in place to ensure that children were safe in their facilities and programs.”

The latter charge includes a subtle dig at Paterno and others, stating that “the collective silence of various individuals in addition to the Defendants were overt acts committed in pursuance of the common purpose to endanger the welfare of children.”

Although I have little evidence to support this theory, I’d expect Penn State to push towards a settlement as quickly as possible. As President Rodney Erickson explained at last night’s town hall meeting the university’s civil liability insurance should cover most of the damages, and the cost of taking this to court, combined with the negative public relations of defending the university’s role in the alleged abuses, would likely be worth more than whatever Penn State would end up having to pay.

Still, this is just the first of what is sure to be many suits against Penn State, and we’ll see just how much the university tries to fight some of the allegations–or whether they’re preparing to open up the coffers.

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About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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