Six of California’s Catholic dioceses, including the Diocese of Sacramento, have started a voluntary compensation for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The program, called the Independent Compensation Program (ICP), is being administered by Washington D.C.-based attorney Ken Feinberg and his business manager, Camille Biros. The two have administered similar diocesan settlement funds nationwide over the past two years. On Monday, they began mailing claims packets to sex abuse survivors identified by the Diocese of Sacramento as victims who already reported their abuse.
Our attorneys have handled hundreds of claims in similar funds nationally since the creation of the first such fund for victims in the Archdiocese of New York.
In the thousands of hours that we have spent working on the claims, we have noticed that our clients, all of whom are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, often ask us similar questions about the independent compensation programs. We have included some of those questions – and the answers – for you now.
Question 1: What is the Independent Compensation Program (ICP)?
The Independent Compensation Program (ICP) is a program created by six of California’s Catholic dioceses: the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of Fresno, the Diocese of Orange, the Diocese of Sacramento, the Diocese of San Bernardino, and the Diocese of San Diego. It is funded by the dioceses and, in most cases, their insurance companies.
It is a voluntary program that allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse by clergymembers to participate in a simpler, more streamlined process of resolving their cases than traditional litigation (filing a lawsuit in court). In often results in compensation being paid to survivors in a period of a few months.
Question: Who can file a claim in the California ICP?
The program is open to anyone who was sexually abused by diocesan clergy (like a priest or a deacon) while the victim was under the age of 18. The ICP is not currently open to anyone sexually abused by members of a religious order or anyone who was a lay employee of the Diocese of Sacramento. If you are not sure if the assailant was a diocesan priest or a member of a religious order (e.g., Jesuits, Franciscans, Salesians, any type of nun), we have various ways of obtaining that information.
Even if your abuser was a member of a religious order, or if he/she was a lay employee of the diocese, like a teacher, we encourage you to call us today about your options. In some cases, the programs have expanded into a new phase for those kinds of claims after the initial wave of cases are resolved.
Question: I received the lengthy claims packet in the mail – what do I do now?
If you have received a packet, we strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney before you attempt to submit the packet yourself. The questions can seem daunting and confusing. An experienced attorney can mean the difference between a very small offer from the fund and a much bigger one. People who file claims are not typically interviewed by the ICP administrators so the claims packet is the one chance survivors have to tell their entire story from start to the present, and even the future, particularly if therapy or counseling will be needed in the future.
Our attorneys have spent thousands of hours preparing compensation program claims packets for funds across the country. We have a unique understanding of how to assemble supporting documents and present your case in a manner that gives the claims administrators the best and most complete information necessary to evaluate your claim.
Question: What is a “claims packet?”
The claims packet is a 6 to 10 page form generated by Mr. Feinberg’s office. The length – and the questions asked – vary by diocese. Typically the packet asks for some basic information about you and your background. Of course, it also requests information about your sexual abuse experience and how it has affected you. It is these two areas that are the most important to the ICP administrators, for various reasons – and that is exactly why you should consult with an attorney before you try to do anything on your own.
Question: How long does the ICP take?
According to the ICP’s written protocols, settlement offers will be made to claimants within 90 days of filing a completed claims packet with administrators, in most cases. Claims will be paid within approximately two weeks from the time the offer is accepted by the claimant.
Question: I didn’t get a claims packet in the mail but I think I am eligible for the ICP. What should I do?
The ICP does have an open registration period during which anyone who thinks they are eligible to participate in the ICP can request to do so. During this very strict – and brief – registration period, the ICP administrators will communicate with the Diocese of Sacramento to verify some preliminary information regarding the priest’s status with the Diocese and his assignment at the time of the abuse. This is generally a routine review of basic facts that results in a claims packet being sent to our office.
Question: I told another priest about my sexual abuse 25 years ago. I will get a claims packet from the ICP eventually, right?
The claims packets were sent to people that the dioceses each define as “people who made a prior report.” This is a very particular term of art that is very strictly defined by the Diocese of Sacramento and its attorneys. Not every report is a “report” under the rules that the Diocese and its partner dioceses wrote for the ICP. For example, a verbal report to a parish pastor 20 years is not a “prior report” in the ICP.
In our experience, the lists of prior reports provided by each diocese are woefully incomplete. Unless your claim was investigated by the Diocese’s internal review board, which typically takes several months and involves you giving a sworn, written statement, it is safe to assume that your name may not be on the list provided by the Diocese of Sacramento.
Therefore, even if you think you made a prior report of abuse, we urge you to contact us immediately to make sure that your claim is registered in a timely manner and that a claims packet is generated for you. If you do not act before the registration deadline of January 31, 2020, you may lose your chance to participate in the settlement fund forever.
Question: Will anyone find out that I filed an ICP claim?
The program is confidential in the sense that neither the fund administrators nor the dioceses will disclose any information publicly about those who participate in the program or their sexual abuse experiences. The amounts paid to survivors are never made public, except as a total amount of settlements paid to the group as a whole.
ICP Claimants, on the other hand, are not required to maintain such confidentiality and can share their involvement with as many – or as few – people as they would like.
Question: Should I contact the Diocese of Sacramento myself to get the ICP process moving?
Attorneys and advocates alike all strongly discourage survivors from contacting anyone at the Diocese of Sacramento themselves, particularly if they have not spoken with an experienced lawyer yet. The Diocese has highly trained staff and experienced lawyers to defend itself. Even the nicest person working at the Diocese is still being paid by the Diocese and working for the benefit of the Diocese. You should have just as much experience and tenacity working on your behalf too.
If you elect to retain our law firm, we will handle all of the communications with the ICP administrators, with the Diocese and its attorneys, and, to the extent it is required, with law enforcement. You will not have to tell your story over and over again to strangers. Your contact will be almost exclusively with the attorney handling your case. This is a road that we know well and we know how to protect you and your interests.
Question: Is the ICP a class action settlement fund?
The ICP is not a class action settlement fund – each claim will be evaluated individual and each claimant will receive an individual response from the administrators. E ach claim is on its own timetable to a certain extent. Settlement amounts in these funds vary widely, depending on various factors like the severity of the sexual abuse and its effects on the survivors. That is why having an experienced attorney is critical – we know what information is going to be important to Mr. Feinberg and his team.
Question: If I file an ICP claims packet, does that mean I can never sue the Diocese?
No. You do not waive any legal options by merely filing a claim with the ICP.
In some cases, you may have options beyond filing a claim – you may be able to file a lawsuit in court against the Diocese. For the overwhelming number of claimants, the statute of limitations has long expired and, as of today, the ICP is the only option for them to get some sense of acknowledgement and accountability by the Diocese of Sacramento.
However, a bill now awaiting the governor’s signature would give survivors of sexual abuse a three year window to file a lawsuit, even if the current statute of limitations has already expired. So it may soon be the case that all ICP claimants have the option of filing a lawsuit too. Therefore, it is very important that you have an experienced attorney guide you through the process so that you can make the best decisions for you and your family if and when you receive an offer to settle from Mr. Feinberg.
Question: Is there any advantage to filing an ICP claim if the statute of limitations changes and allows me to file a lawsuit?
Yes. The ICP process can still be beneficial. Unlike the litigation that follows the filing of a lawsuit in court, the settlement fund process is confidential, less intrusive into victims’ lives, and resolved in a matter of months rather than year. There are no depositions or written discovery. However, it is not without some criticism for that same reason. For example, there is no means by which we can obtain a copy of the priest’s personnel file to learn more about his history of abusing children, since the dioceses and their lawyers are the ones who have written the rules about what information is to be considered by Mr. Feinberg and his team.
CONTACT US TODAY.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Sacramento and throughout California. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in California, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Sacramento now have legal options to recover damages due to a compensation fund created for victims. There may also be a major change in the statute of limitations that will open a window for survivors to file lawsuits regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.