Buffalo Diocese’s Reliance on Insurance Policies Conflicts With Sex Abuse Victims’ Demands for Justice

A recent frontpage story in The Buffalo News reports on the Buffalo Diocese’s plan to rely on insurance policies to cover their liability in Child Victims Act lawsuits.

Attorney Richard P. Weisbeck, Jr. spoke with The Buffalo News for the story. He provided insight on the perspective that survivors of clergy sexual abuse and Child Victims Act attorneys have regarding steps the diocese is taking with insurance policies.

The story in The Buffalo News details: the Buffalo Diocese’s bankruptcy plans, how insurance coverage has been used by other dioceses for child sex abuse lawsuits, delays and objections from insurance companies, as well as how this approach conflicts with victims’ demands for justice.

The following summarizes aspects of The Buffalo News article, including comments made by attorney Richard P. Weisbeck, Jr. Click here to read the full article on The Buffalo News’ website.

Dioceses’ Reliance on Insurance Coverage

The crisis of clergy sex abuse has been well documented by media outlets throughout the country. The passage of the Child Victims Act empowered survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York State to pursue legal justice against the perpetrator of their abuse as well as institutions whose negligence allowed the abuse to take place.

Victims of abuse in some other states had the right to take legal action against their abuser and negligent institutions years prior to New York State’s passage of the Child Victims Act. In many of these communities, institutions such as catholic dioceses filed for bankruptcy and relied on insurance policies for their monetary liability to victims of abuse.

A recent article in The Buffalo News states insurance coverage has played a huge role in the resolutions of other Chapter 11 reorganizations by dioceses and archdioceses facing child sex abuse lawsuits. The article goes on to say, “in past diocesan bankruptcies, courts have granted injunctions that shield parishes from lawsuits in exchange for a substantial contribution from the parishes toward a global settlement for victims.”

The Buffalo News reports that a bankruptcy attorney for the Buffalo Diocese is looking to pursue a similar path for the 161 parishes in the diocese. The newspaper states “Buffalo Diocese lawyers are now counting on the yet-to-be quantified insurance coverage as they try to resolve the claims of more than 250 people who allege they were abused as children by priests or other employees.”

The Buffalo News article goes on to say “the diocese’s desire to have complex, decades-old insurance policies pay off child sex abuse claims that could end up costing tens of millions of dollars already is colliding with some victims’ demands for justice.”

Buffalo Diocese Delays and Insurance Company Opposition

The Buffalo News reports that officials in the Buffalo Diocese now have a better understanding of the insurance policies that the diocese owned in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the information on insurance policies that were in place prior to 1973 are not as clear.

It is reported that the Buffalo Diocese is using an “insurance archaeologist” to review records and determine if the diocese can make claims on older insurance policies. The time required for this process delays legal proceedings for victims of abuse.

Once the diocese completes the process of identifying historic insurance policies, another obstacle remains. The Buffalo News states that even after the diocese establishes documentation of coverage, some insurers have been unwilling to pay.

From 1973 to 2019, the Buffalo Diocese purchased liability insurance coverage from eight different companies. As some insurance companies attempt to deny coverage or battle the diocese in court proceedings regarding liability, victims of abuse see more delays in their ability to pursue justice.

Justice for Clergy Abuse Victims

Richard P. Weisbeck, Jr. told The Buffalo News “all they talked about is we want to get maximum insurance coverage. Well, the victims want justice, and sometimes the justice is more than insurance coverage.”

The article reports that some of the victims Mr. Weisbeck represents are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. These survivors of childhood sexual abuse want a resolution as soon as possible in state court, after waiting decades for justice.

The Buffalo News states that Mr. Weisbeck has urged U.S. Bankruptcy Court to allow Child Victims Act cases to move forward in the state courts so that he can begin discovery and depose clergy alleged to have committed abuses and others who may have covered up abuses. Mr. Weisbeck added “what has happened in the bankruptcy proceedings of other dioceses is irrelevant here.”

Mr. Weisbeck continued by stating “the idea that it’s limited to insurance is offensive to every one of our child victim clients.”

For More Information

For more information on the legal rights of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and the Child Victims Act, visit Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Sexual Abuse Victims page. For answers to additional questions or for a free confidential case review, contact attorney Richard P. Weisbeck, Jr. at 716-849-1333, ext. 348 or via e-mail at rweisbeck@lglaw.com.