Can You Still File a Lawsuit if the Priest that Molested You is Dead?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Filing a lawsuit against a priest or member of the clergy who molested you as a child is incredibly difficult.  There are many difficult legal hurdles in the process, and survivors of sexual abuse often need the help of an experienced sexual abuse victim lawyer to get the justice they seek.  One of the most difficult legal questions to understand is what to do if the target of the lawsuit has passed away since the abuse took place.  If you wanted to sue a priest who abused you as a child, but he has already died since that time, then what can you do to get the compensation you need and seek justice?  Andrew Shubin, an attorney for victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, explains how you can still file a lawsuit and whom to file it against.

Can You File a Lawsuit Against the Church for Abuse by a Priest who Passed Away?

Generally speaking, most lawsuits for sexual abuse or molestation by a Catholic priest are going to be filed against the priest himself and the Church.  Many cases of sexual abuse and sexual assault by priests are considered “institutional sexual assault” claims because they deal not only with the individual’s actions but with what the institution did or failed to do to contribute to the risk of harm.

Put simply, the Catholic Church is often accused of being complicit in priest abuse scandals, and so you can usually file the case against the Church as well as the priest.  If the priest has already died in the years since the abuse occurred, this does not stop you from being able to file a claim against the Church.

Can You Sue a Deceased Priest’s Estate for Sexual Abuse and Molestation?

In most cases, lawsuits can still be filed against a deceased person for wrongdoing they committed while they were still alive.  In these cases, the claim is usually filed against the “estate” of the deceased instead of the individual.  This means filing a claim against the assets and wealth left behind after their death.

Most Catholic priests do not have much personal wealth and would not be able to afford damages in most cases whether they are living or deceased.  That is why it is important to file these cases against the Church itself.  That way, there will be money available to pay for your damages.

In some cases, we may file the claim against the priest’s estate, but this is not the primary focus of the case; the Church is the main defendant.

Holding the Church Liable for a Dead Priest’s Sexual Abuse

When you sue the Church over molestation by a priest, the accusations against the Church as an institution are usually twofold.  First, you will usually claim that, as the priest’s employer, the Church shares responsibility.  This allows you to go after the Catholic school (if you were sexually abused at school), the parish, the diocese, the archdiocese, or some other subdivision of the Catholic Church that the priest worked for when the abuse took place.  In some cases, this can mean seeking full damages from the Church instead of worrying about whether the priest can cover the damages you seek.

Second, you will often sue the Church for its own negligence or abuse if there is evidence that they shared responsibility.  The courts can often hold the Church responsible for failing to fire known abusers, for failing to screen priests for past abuse, and for other negligence.  In many cases, the Church is actually complicit, with records showing that they knew a priest was accused of past abuse and that they moved the priest to new parishes or neighborhoods to hide that fact.  In doing so, the Church puts additional children at risk – and it can be held responsible for those decisions.

Seeking Damages for Sexual Molestation by Former and Deceased Priests

Whether the priest still works for the Church – or whether the priest is even living anymore – does not change what already happened.  The law in most states allows victims of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest to seek damages and to seek justice for the harm they faced by suing the Church for damages.

The damages you can receive often include punitive damages to punish the Church and the individual actors for their wrongdoing.  Additionally, you can get damages for the harm you faced, from the physical effects and injuries associated with abuse to the mental and emotional effects of this childhood trauma.  You can also often seek damages for the medical and mental health care you sought because of this trauma.  Many survivors of sexual abuse and sexual trauma seek therapy and years of mental health care because of what they endured, and the responsible parties should be made to reimburse the victim for the costs of this care.

The goal of damages in a lawsuit is primarily to reimburse the victim for any expenses they faced.  So much of the harm from childhood sexual abuse by a priest is not physical, but rather mental and emotional.  Damages for these intangible harms should also be available, whether you are suing for sexual abuse by the Catholic Church in NYC or elsewhere as an institution or the individual priest who abused you.

Call Our Lawyer for Victims of Molestation by Catholic Priests

If you or a loved one was the victim of molestation or other sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, our lawyer for victims of institutional sexual abuse may be able to help.  The Law Office of Andrew Shubin represents victims across the country in institutional sexual abuse claims and lawsuits against the Catholic Church.  Whether the priest who abused you is living or deceased, our attorneys may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve after surviving this kind of abuse.  Call us today at (814) 826-3586 for a free, confidential consultation on your potential claim.


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