Michael Mazurczak, Michael Byrne, and Erin Alarcon recently obtained summary judgment in favor of the Boy Scouts of America and a local council in an action involving decades-old allegations of sexual abuse. The plaintiff in the case (Hammerberg v. Boy Scouts of America Corp., et al., Worcester Superior Court Civil Action No. 2012-2244C) claimed to have been sexually abused by a former scoutmaster during the early 1960s. He sought to recover substantial damages from the national scouting organization and the local council for negligent hiring and supervision of the alleged perpetrator, who died in 1989.
Because the plaintiff claimed to have repressed his memories of the abuse, the Superior Court (Pasquale, J.) declined to rule that his claims were necessarily barred by the statute of limitations. Instead, the Court ruled that neither the national scouting organization nor the local council could be liable for negligent hiring, because scoutmasters are chosen by the chartering organizations of local troops. The Court went on to conclude that the defendants were immune from liability on the remaining claims alleging negligent supervision and inadequate safeguards. Although the doctrine of charitable immunity was modified in the early 1970s to abolish complete immunity for torts and replaced with a statutory limitation on recovery, the Court concluded that these legislative changes did not apply retroactively. Thus, the defendants’ liability was governed by the common law doctrine in place at the time of the conduct in question, which rendered them immune.