Penn State could pay $100 million in civil damages to Sandusky's victims and lose public funding
Penn State supporters likely felt the university hit rock bottom Thursday with the release of the Freeh Report, with its damning litany of evidence that school leaders ignored and concealed horrific crimes against children.
But the cost to Penn State could be more severe than anyone imagined. The university could eventually fork out more than $100 million to victims of Jerry Sandusky's child molestation, experts say.
Although the Freeh Report is not a legal document, its findings following the conviction of Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator, on 45 counts of child molestation would make any civil trial difficult for the school to win. Penn State already has encouraged victims to come forward and settle, but now the victims will be encouraged (and many will say justified) to come forward asking for millions of dollars.
"Penn State could get clobbered," said Norm Pattis, a leading trial lawyer based in Connecticut who specializes in civil suits. "The plaintiff's theory is not just that people were injured but that lives were ruined. It's not uncommon to see behavioral problems. I think the damage claims could be very significant."Graham Spanier's decisions might cost Penn State millions. (AP)
"Five million apiece is a conservative estimate," Pattis said. "If I had one of these plaintiffs, I'd hold out for a $10 million settlement and it would take a lot of work to get me to do less."
Some experts feel that number is excessive, that six-figure settlements are more likely. "Somebody said $10 million per victim," said legal expert Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute and professor of law at Vermont Law School and a contributor for Sports Illustrated. "No, I don't see where that number is from. When somebody dies, it's not that high."
But McCann acknowledges the real possibility that new victims could come forward, emboldened by the courage shown by the victims who testified against Sandusky. Fewer than a dozen took the stand, but one study found that men who molest boys average 150 victims. "Let's face it," McCann said. "There must be other victims. That's why Penn State should get closure."
Chicago-based attorney Andrew Stoltmann believes the cost to Penn State could soar past $100 million in settlements – a number Pattis agrees with. And that's the preferred path for the university because a trial not only likely would lead to more ugly evidence against Joe Paterno and the school, but could outrage a jury enough to award a victim tens of millions of dollars in damages (though a legal procedure called remittitur allows a judge to reduce a jury award deemed excessive).
University insurance could cover a large award, but the school's inaction over the course of the past 14 years in stopping Sandusky's behavior may threaten the coverage. "If you found high-level officials knew what was going on," Drexel law professor Richard Frankel said, "it could give rise to punitive damages. Then the university is on the hook for itself."
Asked by Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel on Thursday if civil claims could run into the hundreds of millions, Victim 1’s attorney, Michael Boni, said, "I don't think that's out of the question."