Alabama Senate approves bill allowing Boy Scout abuse victims to pursue damages

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Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, speaks during a special session on redistricting on Friday, July 21, 2023 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Senate Tuesday approved a bill that would allow survivors of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America to take full advantage of the bankruptcy proceedings against the organization.

SB 18, sponsored by Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, passed the Senate 34-0. The bill goes to the House of Representatives.

“We want to make sure that the 1,500 to 2,000 — we’re not even sure of the exact number — survivors of child sex assault in the state of Alabama have the ability to fully participate in this settlement funding,” she said.

Under current state law, victims of child sexual abuse have until six years after they turn 19 to file a civil lawsuit. According to a March 2020 Child USA report, a national think tank, the average age of disclosure is 52. Coleman’s bill would lift the limit for those who suffered abuse while in the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in 2020 after several states revisited their statute of limitations around the issue, according to Reuters. 

The Scouting Settlement Trust, a $2.7 billion fund established after the Boy Scouts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, allows victims of sexual abuse to claim between $3,500 and $2.7 million.

The Senate adopted a committee substitute from Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, that matches a similar bill sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Pike Road.

The substitute includes a sentence saying that “action is for purposes of making a claim or claims in a bankruptcy proceeding that was initiated on February 18, 2020.” The language would effectively limit the exception to victims of abuse in the Boy Scouts. 

Coleman’s original version states that “action under this subsection against a bankruptcy estate may be commenced at any time.”

According to the New York Times in 2019, leaders of the Boy Scouts have been sexually abusing children for decades. In 2012, the LA Times published a series on the “Perversion Files,” confidential internal documents that showed that the organization knew about and had files on suspected abuse.

Coleman said that this bill needs to be signed by the governor by April for survivors to take full advantage of the lawsuit.

“There’s some things sometimes that we have here, and you just really do question, ‘Have we done something to help somebody?’” she said. “In this case, we get a chance to do something to help these survivors.”

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