November 20, 2007

Suit Exposes Sexual Abuse by Illinois Boy Scout Executive

Today Chicago law firm Hurley McKenna & Mertz filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America, the Blackhawk Area Council of the Boy Scouts, and Dixon, Illinois resident Charles Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff, also called “Chuck,” was a nearly thirty-year paid employee of the Boy Scouts, spending the last eleven years as a Senior District Executive of the Blackhawk Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, based in Rockford, Illinois, and was recently assigned to Lee, Ogle and Whiteside Counties.

Bickerstaff is alleged to have repeatedly sexually abused a 16 year-old Boy Scout, named as “John Doe” in the lawsuit. Bickerstaff, 56, is now in jail in Dixon, Illinois on $4 million bond awaiting trial on multiple counts of child molestation involving at least two victims.

Police have recovered six diaries of 120 pages in length from Bickerstaff's home which describe in detail his sexual relationships with underage boys dating back to at least 1989.

The victim was a member of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for most of his childhood who "looked (to Bickerstaff) as an authority figure," the lawsuit says. Using the power and trust of his position, the suit says, Bickerstaff routinely spent time alone with the boy outside of Scout events. Bickerstaff "enticed, induced, directed, coerced, and forced" the child "to engage in deviant sexual acts with him." The crimes took place on a Scout trip to Lansing, Michigan, at Bickerstaff's home, and "other locations."

According to the suit, the Boy Scouts "knew or should have known" that Bickerstaff was dangerous, failed to adequately investigate allegations of misconduct involving Bickerstaff and failed to adequately supervise Bickerstaff's activities. The suit also alleges that the Boy Scouts knew for decades that sexual predators "had infiltrated Scouting," but its leadership "failed to inform Scouts' parents of that fact."

My firm represents the first victim to come forward and report this pedophile to police. Hopefully this lawsuit will allow other victims to come forward and report this type of abuse to the authorities, and allow us to use the tools available through the legal system to investigate how the Boy Scouts permitted a pedophile to become a paid executive within its organization.

A copy of the filed complaint can be referenced below:

Continue reading "Suit Exposes Sexual Abuse by Illinois Boy Scout Executive" »

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November 13, 2007

Illinois Court Holds Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages Unconstitutional

In August of 2005, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, under pressure from medical malpractice insurance companies and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, signed a law the capped non-economic damages solely in medical malpractice cases at the arbitrary amounts of $500,000 in cases against physicians, and $1,000,000 in cases against hospitals. This law was extremely unfair, in that it singled out only the victims of medical negligence, and not any other class of litigants such as corporations or individuals suing for business damages. The cap applied to areas of damage in medical malpractice cases that are all too common in the most severe cases--wrongful death, pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement.

For example, in one of my cases, a hospital nurse erroneously listed a toxic antibiotic, gentamycin, on a transfer form to a nursing home. As a result, the nursing home unwittingly gave my client this toxic drug for one week, destroying my client's kidney functions. She now must receive dialysis for the rest of her life. She has a permanent dialysis port sticking out of her chest. At trial, the jury found the hospital guilty of negligence and awarded my client $3,200,000 in damages for the pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement. If the case had gone to trial under the legislation signed by the Illinois governor, my client's non-economic damages would have been reduced to $1,000,000. Fortunately, the new law did not apply to medical malpractice that was discovered before the law was signed.

Today, Judge Joan Larsen of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, ruled that the caps on medical malpractice damages violate the Illinois Constitution. See her well-reasoned decision here. Following Illinois Supreme Court precedent holding prior attempts at "tort reform" in Illinois to be unconstitutional, Judge Larsen held that any cap on medical malpractice damages improperly invades the constitutional right of a plaintiff to a trial by jury, improperly invades the province of the jury to award damages based on the evidence, and unduly encroaches upon the right of the judiciary to decide whether a jury's damage award is excessive.

I applaud Judge Larsen's decision. The ruling protects the right of a victim of malpractice to a trial by jury--with the jury to decide the amount of any award of compensation based on the evidence. Judge Larsen's decision represents the principle that the Illinois constitution does not allow those who have been most seriously injured as a result of medical malpractice to have their rights taken away in order to increase the profits of insurance companies.

The record profits of hospitals and insurance companies show that they are taking advantage of Illinois doctors and patients. The real solution to the problem of rising medical malpractice premiums is meaningful insurance reform and regulation of the insurance companies.

My firm will continue to work to protect the rights of victims of medical negligence to full and fair compensation.

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November 1, 2007

Railroad pressured families into settlements without the benefit of legal counsel

A lawsuit in Arkansas against the Union Pacific Railroad claims company officials pressured families of victims injured or killed by trains to quickly settle for amounts lower than what they may have received with a lawyer's help.

An Associated Press story explains:

The suit, now being argued before a judge in Lafayette County, Arkansas, says officials came to families in emergency rooms or while they still grieved. Arkansas residents James Freeman, Robert Udell and Victor Vickers sued the company, asking for class-action status to involve anyone injured or lost a family member in crashes at crossings, on a rail or near one from 1992 to February 15, 2005.

Up to 300 families may have been pressed by Union Pacific to settle without the benefit of legal representation.

The tactics used by the Union Pacific, as alleged in the suit, is an example of the type of unfair bargaining that companies and insurers may use to force vulnerable families, suffering from the uncertainty caused by a tragedy, to agree to disadvantageous settlements. Companies and their insurers are never trying to look out for the best interests of the victims of negligence. Always speak to a knowledgable trial lawyer before discussing a personal injury, medical malpractice or wrongful death case with a defendant company's representatives or their insurers.

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