This article was originally featured in our All Rise newsletter on July 19, 2021.
One of the largest child abuse settlements in U.S. history was announced this month. On July 1, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and its local councils stated they had reached an $850 million settlement with survivors of sex abuse allegedly committed by its scoutmasters and other organizational representatives.
Several firms represented a group of more than 84,000 plaintiffs nationwide whose counts of abuse spanned decades. Pennsylvania firm Eisenberg Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck represented 16,890 of the survivors, which is believed to be the largest group represented by one law firm.
Eisenberg Rothweiler co-founder and senior shareholder Kenneth Rothweiler was one of the lead settlement negotiators and said the agreement reached in Delaware Federal Bankruptcy Court is just a first step in the matter.
“Because there are so many victims, we still need to ensure they are all compensated fairly,” said Rothweiler, who was named Philadelphia Best Lawyers “Lawyer of the Year” in 2017 for Product Liability Litigation–Plaintiffs. The funds from the settlement will be placed into a trust led by a trustee and an advisory committee comprised of a small group of lawyers from the Torts Claimants Committee and from the plaintiffs’ group, known as the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice.
Federal bankruptcy court was the venue for the settlement since various abuse claims forced the National BSA to file for Chapter 11 protection in February 2020. Rothweiler noted that arguing a major abuse claim in bankruptcy court–an atypical setting for the matter–added complexities to a case already fraught with emotion. By working alongside firm co-founder Stewart Eisenberg and attorney Josh Schwartz as well as outside bankruptcy counsel, the legal team was able to overcome the logistical hurdles and reach a favorable outcome.
According to court documents, BSA’s total assets exceed $1 billion and include real properties and various holdings. Rothweiler said that he does not expect this settlement to be the only one resulting from the BSA abuse allegations.
“Our attention will now turn to the Boy Scouts’ insurers and sponsoring and chartering organizations who have billions of dollars in legal exposure, of which a substantial portion is necessary to fairly compensate the survivors,” he said. “If they’re not willing to come to the table, then we’ll eventually litigate against them.”
Rothweiler added that he hopes that, beyond the amount of the award, the result provides some safety and comfort for other sex abuse victims.
“I’ve been practicing for over 40 years as a trial lawyer, and now being an advocate for a group of survivors is very fulfilling,” he said. “I’m hopeful that our case will encourage people who have been sexually abused in any setting to have the courage to come forward. They should understand that they are not alone.”
Justin Smulison is a professional writer who regularly contributes to Best Lawyers. He was previously a reporter for the New York Law Journal and also led content and production for the Custom Projects Group at ALM Media. In addition to his various credited and uncredited writing projects, he has developed global audiences hosting and producing podcasts and audio interviews for professional organizations and music sites.