The Law Offices of Kosnoff PLLC has announced that the first filing of a civil lawsuit by sex-abuse survivors against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena has brought forth a flood of new claims, as well as a growing list of Helena diocese priests identified as sexual predators.
On Sept. 30, attorneys representing 40 new plaintiffs added these names to an original complaint, bringing the total number of plaintiffs they represent to 73. Nearly doubling the number of plaintiffs within a week is an "extremely fast" paced addition of victims, said J.R. Casillas, a Missoula attorney with the law firm of Datsopoulous, MacDonald & Lind.
This same case has another 200 John Doe and Jane Doe "placeholder" slots, reserved for victims anticipated to join the case.
"It begs the question: How many more people are out there, Casillas said, if this many are breaking their silence and coming forward within days of the first lawsuit filing?
"The magnitude of what we are seeing is staggering."
Thursday's amended complaint was filed, along with the original complaint, in Montana First Judicial District Court of Lewis and Clark County in Helena.
Last week, an unrelated filing from another attorney brought forth some 45 claimants against the Helena diocese.
The Helena diocese had claimed that no diocesan priests have been named in lawsuits, but Thursday's amended complaint disputed the assertion, alleging that Father George Ferguson ("Father Fergie"), a Helena diocesan priest, abused Mark Beringer as a child while he attended St. Anthony's Parish in Missoula. The plaintiffs lawyers say that the investigation of these claims has brought forth four new alleged diocesan perpetrators, previously unnamed, whose names will be added to upcoming lawsuits.
Casillas noted that the Helena diocese, which employed and supervised priests and nuns from different orders, remains directly liable for those bad acts.
"Under the law, the diocese is responsible for the actions of these clergy, regardless of where they were educated or ordained," Casillas said.
While the process of coming forward is difficult for survivors, it has been important in unearthing the complete story of what happened to children growing up in Montana, plaintiffs' attorneys say.
Dan Fasy, an attorney with Kosnoff PLLC in Seattle, and one of the attorneys representing 72 plaintiffs, has conducted numerous interviews with survivors. Victims may start out thinking they're alone or no one cares about what happened years ago. But that changes when survivors begin to realize what happened was wrong and something needs to be done about it, Fasy said.
"These survivors are standing up for themselves, and in doing so they are sending a message that similar acts of abuse will no longer be tolerated in our society," Fasy said.
Plaintiff law firms in this case include Datsopoulous, MacDonald & Lind in Missoula, Montana, Kosnoff PLLC in Seattle, Wash., James Vernon & Weeks in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and the Law Office of Joseph A. Blumel in Spokane, Wash.