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Mass. lawmakers decide on bill ending cap on damages for child abuse cases against nonprofits

Massachusetts State House
Jesse Costa
The Massachusetts State House.

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary is considering House bill 1446 which would amend a state statute that caps damages on some cases against nonprofit charities, including the Catholic Church.

If the bill is approved, what's known as the "charitable immunity" cap, would no longer limit damages to $20,000 in cases against nonprofits involving sexual or physical abuse of a minor. The limit on damages has meant sometimes attorneys won't take these cases. The cap has also been used as leverage to reduce settlements.

State Rep. Michael S. Day, D- Stoneham, is the co-chair of the judiciary committee and proposed the bill.

Supporters of the bill say it would allow for meaningful reparations for abuse victims who often face life-long impacts on employment and relationships.

Ship Shea, a survivor of abuse at the Worcester Diocese, said in a statement the cap "has been used by the church to dissuade victims from coming forward and finding justice... Eliminating the cap wouldn’t necessarily level the playing field, but it would certainly give victims a fighting chance."

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference and the Diocese of Worcester did not respond to a request for comment.

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell said in a statement, "I support this bill and its policy recommendations, which align with similar legislation I have already endorsed as Chair of the Victim and Witness Assistance Board."

The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network said in a statement, that existing law "balances nonprofits' charitable missions, their ability to operate, and an ability for plaintiffs to be compensated. Proposals to change the law should be evaluated by their impact on each of those goals."

The committee has until June 30 to decide whether to advance the bill.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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