Previous posts here have sometimes used model jury instructions to illustrate certain concepts in Connecticut law. Although these instructions are not laws in and of themselves, they generally explain what the important parts of statutes and regulations may be for making a decision in a given case. Further, when a court gives the wrong instruction or fails to give an instruction it should have given, the outcome of a case can be affected. One such example occurred recently, when the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned a large verdict delivered against The Boy Scouts of America.
The plaintiff in the case, known as “John Doe,” was sexually abused while he was a Boy Scout during the 1970s. He sued the Boy Scouts, claiming he had suffered physical and psychological damage due to the Scouts’ failure to protect him from his abuser. After a trial, a jury found in the plaintiff’s favor, and awarded him $12 million in damages. The Boy Scouts appealed the verdict on several grounds, one of which was that the judge should have given a specific instruction to the jury regarding one facet of state negligence law.
The Connecticut Supreme Court considered both written briefs and oral arguments in the case and handed down a written decision. In it, the majority of justices found that the court should have given the jury the instruction in question. Basically, the supreme court determined that the jury should have been told they could only find the Boy Scouts liable for the intentional actions of the abuser if the organization had caused the risk of his abuse to increase because of its conduct. Because this instruction was not given, the court threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial to occur with the proper instruction included.
As can be seen by cases such as this, while it is possible to hold organizations responsible in a civil action for things such as sexual abuse, there are many legal technicalities that affect the course of such litigation.
Source: fox61.com, “Connecticut Supreme Court overturns $12M sex abuse verdict against Boy Scouts,” Oct. 3, 2016