City lawyer, Patrick Raggett, has been allowed to proceed with his claim against the governors of a Jesuit run school he attended. He is claiming £5 million in damages (a record amount) for sexual abuse suffered in the 1970s at the hands of a now deceased priest at the school before it closed in 1978. The Court found that Mr Raggett had been abused by the priest, for whose actions the school governors admitted they were vicariously liable. The Court also found that Mr Raggett's claim was time-barred but exercised its discretion to dis-apply the statutory time limit of 3 years. Mr Raggett was therefore able to proceed with his claim notwithstanding that it concerns abuse occurring some thirty years ago.
In exercising its discretion, the Court considered that Mr Raggett's delay in bringing his claim was explained by his suppressed memory of the abuse and that once his memory returned (after an episode of "cathartic realisation" in 2005) he sought legal advice and medical treatment promptly. The Court was particularly persuaded by the overwhelming evidence against the priest that he had committed the abuse and was not concerned that the priest was now dead and therefore unable to deny the allegations. The insurers of the school governors have confirmed that they are on risk.
Mr Raggett's case illustrates how readily the courts will exercise their discretion in favour of victims of sexual abuse where long delays in commencing legal action are explained by the victim's suppressed memory and where there is compelling evidence that the alleged abuse did in fact occur. Given the courts' attitude, many more of such cases are expected to be allowed to proceed. Insurers should be prepared for a significant long-tail exposure to institutions typically facing such claims (i.e. churches, schools, care homes). In the US, sex abuse claims have cost the Catholic Church in excess of £1 billion (£300 million in 2008 alone).