A brother and two sisters whose sex-abuse lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Charleston was dismissed can proceed toward a trial after all, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The siblings allege they were abused by a priest at St. William Church in Ward between 1965 and 1971. Ward is west of Columbia near Saluda.
The diocese announced a class-action settlement setting up a fund for sex-abuse victims in 2007 and announcing a deadline to apply for compensation. The siblings, who were living near Charlotte at the time, did not hear about the settlement since it was announced in the Rock Hill Herald and not the Charlotte Observer, attorney Gregg Meyers said. He argued that they also should be entitled to compensation and filed for a trial in 2009.
Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington dismissed the case. She ruled that the siblings had missed the deadline for filing for compensation that the settlement specified and Myers could not file a similar suit. She also said the statute of limitations on sex-abuse litigation had expired.
Meyers had argued that the siblings did not receive proper notice of the settlement and could file suit. He also argued that the statute of limitations on suing over sex abuse does not apply because the issue is not sex abuse but whether the diocese should have prevented the priest from abusing children.
Meyers appealed to the state's high court. The Supreme Court sided with his arguments on why the case should go forward.
The ruling means the issues are again up for review in court, according to Peter Shahid, an attorney for the diocese. It's possible the case might not go to trial, he said.
When asked for comment, the diocese released the following statement:
"In 2007, the Diocese of Charleston entered into a Class Action Settlement Agreement with sexual abuse victims. The Agreement provided a forum for victims to come forward in a confidential, non-confrontational manner while allowing the Diocese to reach out to victims and to compensate them for their suffering. The plaintiffs in the current lawsuit did not participate in the class settlement process.
"The Supreme Court's decision affirms the Class Action Settlement Agreement; however, the current lawsuit will proceed at the trial court level. The Diocese entered into the Agreement in good faith to settle the claims of those who came forward in the Class Action process."
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.