[to top of second column]
"They are not entitled to sovereign immunity," said Matthew Casey, a Philadelphia lawyer who has handled catastrophic injury cases. "It doesn't mean that they won't attempt to invoke sovereign immunity, but the appellate case law is pretty clear on that."
The response by Penn State officials to reports of abuse will probably form a key part of any legal battle, as well as the circumstances surrounding Sandusky's abrupt retirement in 1999 at the height of his coaching career.
Another complicating factor is the statute of limitations in these kinds of cases for juvenile victims. Until August 2002 the clock ran out at age 20, but that year the Legislature raised the limit to 30. Prosecutors accused Sandusky of crimes from 1994 to 2009, and it's unclear whether civil allegations will date back further.
Serbin said Pennsylvania's law remains one of the weakest in the country, from the standpoint of child abuse victims. When it was changed nine years ago, the new provisions were not made retroactive, and courts tend to enforce the time limits strictly.
"So some of these cases may already be stale, and my hunch is, some of them are," Serbin said.
Several experts predicted any civil cases will wind up in Centre County Common Pleas Court -- not federal court -- and that judges will be sympathetic to having the cases captioned anonymously, if that is what the accusers want.
Some lawyers suggested Penn State, a large institution that can afford a vigorous legal defense, should consider reaching out to victims in an effort to avoid lawsuits.
"New facts are going to come out, I'm sure, in the civil litigation," Casey said. "It's one of the reasons that Penn State and the other potential defendants may decide to do whatever they can to prevent that from happening, and people going under oath. It's very dangerous."
Mahon said that has not been a subject of discussion.
"We don't have the identities of victims, other than maybe some of them going to the press," he said.
Lawyers had different theories regarding whether to file a lawsuit immediately, or after criminal charges have been resolved. Some say delays never helps plaintiffs, but others believe details that emerge from the criminal cases will strengthen their hand. Publicity now, of course may also generate additional clients.
Along with Sandusky, prosecutors also charged athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz with failing to properly report suspected abuse to authorities, and lying to a grand jury.
Like Sandusky, they have said they are innocent. Sandusky's lawyer, Joe Amendola, did not return a message left at his office Thursday.
So many facts remain unknown that it is difficult to say how much a legitimate claim of sexual abuse against a child might be worth in the eyes of a jury, and the grand jury report showed a vast range of alleged actions by Sandusky, from apparent sexual overtures to an eye-witnessed attack in the team's locker room showers.
"I know whatever number ends up being on it, it's going to be a very, very large number," said Williams, the Philadelphia plaintiffs' lawyer. "Because of the nature of the liability, the nature of the cases, and the nature of the damages."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
< Sports index
Back to top
News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries
Law & Courts |
Spiritual Life |
Health & Fitness |
Calendar | Letters to the Editor