This week brings news that the Boy Scouts of America filed bankruptcy. And I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on the subject.
While a membership decline has helped contribute to the financial problems, the Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy filing is almost exclusively due to financial pressures faced from lawsuits filed by victims of sexual assault.
On one hand, this is what I do for a living. I represent people who have been wronged by others, including having represented victims of sexual assault (though not any claims against the Boy Scouts). I am deeply troubled by what happened to the victims and hope that they get compensated for their losses.
On the other hand, I am also a big believer in scouting. My 17 year old son is an Eagle Scout (the above photo is of his Eagle project — artificial coral reefs that were deployed in the Gulf of Mexico), and he anticipates getting another award in the near future that only 20 or so scouts per year across the country earn. We have had great time and adventures together in scouts, including backpacking well over 100 miles together in Philmont and sailing together in the Bahamas. He has grown and develop leadership skills because of scouting, and I’ve seen it in other kids as well. Scouts has also fostered in my son a love of the outdoors and outdoors activities that will likely last throughout his life.
Here are several of my thoughts. One, legally, this is a result of a perfect legal storm. I understand that 90% of the legal cases facing Boy Scouts arise from assaults that took place more than thirty years ago. Normally, there are time limits on when a lawsuit can be filed (most within two or four years from the act), but many states have started creating exceptions to these time limits for claims involving sexual assault on children. That’s probably a good rule, but it means that all the claims that were previously extinguished are all of a sudden being brought at once. That mass filing of claims that were previously expired has created a unique legal situation.
Second, the financial problem is compounded by the fact that the Boy Scouts are having disputes with their insurance companies about the payments relating to the lawsuits. Normally, when a claim is made against you, your insurance should pay that claim. But the Boy Scouts’ insurance companies aren’t paying the claims so the Boy Scouts have had to file additional lawsuits trying to get their insurance carriers pay the claims.
Third, I know that Scouts has created “new” safeguards to try and prevent assaults from happening (and I put in parentheses because there have been safeguards and training for several years and new training that went into effect a couple of years ago). There are policies about background checks, rules about adults not being alone with scouts, and training requirements for all scout volunteers. Hopefully these policies have made and will make a difference in stopping any assaults.
Fourth, I don’t have a solution, but I hope that people can come up with a compromise that helps compensate the deserving victims while also preserving an organization that provides leadership and other opportunities to kids around the country.
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