In Sex Abuse Cases, an Expiration Date Is Often Attached

Paul G. Lannon Jr., a lawyer at Holland & Knight, which represents many private schools, says that in cases that are outside the statute of limitations, schools are under no legal obligation to pay, but they still sometimes offer substantial amounts. Mr. Lannon said he’d seen more than one claim settle outside the statute for more than $300,000.

“I really see that the trend is schools are focused on trying to do the right thing, trying to help survivors heal,” Mr. Lannon said.

Stephen Fife was kissed and groomed over the course of two school years by a teacher at Horace Mann School in the Bronx, who once tried to hold him down and rape him. He complained to an administrator at the time, and was told that by pressing the allegation, “you will only tarnish yourself,” he recalled.

When he settled with the school about four years ago, he was decades outside the statute, and that was a crucial piece of the negotiations. He said that while the money he received was “beneficial,” it was about a fifth of what he was led to expect by his lawyer.

He said the school kept going back to the statute, saying, in effect, “What we’re giving you is from the goodness of our hearts because we don’t have to give you anything.”

Horace Mann did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Pingry does not dispute that Mr. Alton preyed on its students. In its report about sexual abuse released in the spring, it said Mr. Alton abused at least 27 students during his tenure there, and that faculty members observed behavior that should have raised alarms. Why did he have students in his office behind a locked door? When adults knocked, why was there a “delay” in answering?

The report said that in 1980 Mr. Alton, who left the school at the end of the 1978 school year, pleaded guilty in New Jersey to three counts of private lewdness and three counts of impairing morals of a minor after playing strip poker and masturbating with three 12-year-old boys who were in his fifth grade class at Pingry. He received a suspended sentence and five years of probation. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to second degree sodomy and first degree sexual abuse for incidents involving a 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old boy. He was sent to prison until 1995.

Photo

Rice Fuller holds a photograph of himself, taken in the summer of 1977, around the same time that he says he was sexually abused at Pingry.

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