Victims of convicted pedophile Earl Bradley will soon learn the amount at which their cases have been settled.
The final claim amounts still have not been finalized, but court documents show the estimated settlement award for children who endured the worst abuse is $487,000. Plaintiffs' attorney Bruce Hudson said the precise amount could change based on appeals, but he does not expect it to change significantly.
Victims are grouped into five categories; the top tier comprises victims with clear and convincing evidence of abuse by Bradley. Other tiers are for victims who suffered a significant to a reasonable degree of abuse, those that may or may not have been abused and children that were likely not abused. A total of 1,400 victims have filed claims.
The chief administrator, Thomas Rutter, a retired judge with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was assisted by Dr. Anne Steinberg.
Documents sent to victims show they considered the age of the victims at the time of abuse, damages suffered as a result of the abuse, past and future mental health treatment, genital exams done by Bradley during visits for unrelated illnesses and cases where Bradley threatened the victim’s family if they revealed the abuse.
Hudson said he did not know specific details, but during the criminal case, evidence was presented that Bradley had allegedly threatened children if they revealed abuse to their parents.
Plaintiffs' attorney Craig Karsnitz said to his knowledge, cases of threats by Bradley were limited to older children, who were told not to talk. He said most victims were so young that Bradley did not have to worry about them talking.
Victims below the top tier who disagree with their categorization have the right to appeal and must give written notice to Rutter by Tuesday, Dec. 31. A notice of final award will be given by the Court of Chancery, the ultimate overseer of the settlement money.
Plaintiffs' attorney Phil Federico said he did not anticipate many appeals and that the final dollar amounts should be known within 30 to 60 days. Plaintiffs' attorney, Chase Brockstedt of Lewes firm Baird, Mandalas and Brockstedt agreed, saying the process of identifying the victims' level of abuse was thorough and collaborative.
The victims' families provided not only medical records and interviews, but anything else that could be considered helpful, such as school records, he said. Brockstedt said plaintiffs' attorneys had access to the medical records of 95 percent to 98 percent of the victims in the class, in addition to multiple meetings.
Karsnitz said Rutter, who served in a similar role in the sexual abuse settlement involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, is experienced at this sort of process.
None of the attorneys revealed how many victims are in each tier or what the payout is for each tier. Brockstedt said the number of victims in each tier is confidential and subject to the appeals process.
Most of the victims are still under 18 and would require court authorization to have access to the money, but victims older than 18 will have immediate access to their settlement. Hudson said settlement amounts should be finalized in early 2014.
Federico said the settlement was gratifying in that now compensation for Bradley’s victims will become real. He also said the categories and dollar amounts reached by Rutter are good and fair to the victims.
"Thus far, as far as I'm aware, no one has been dissatisfied with the amounts that were received," Federico said.
He said at first, many clients did not think the amounts received from a class-action would be substantial. But now, Federico said, victims can see that the amounts they will receive will be substantial and can help pay for treatment and care they might not otherwise be able to afford.
In one case, he said, a family was struggling with how to pay for their daughter's college education. But with the money from the settlement, Federico said they plan to use it to help pay for college expenses.
"It's been a long time coming, and I'm very eager to get the process started," Brockstedt said. "Every step we can take to finally resolve this process is a good one."
He said the victims he has spoken with have all been satisfied and are glad to see compensation finally forthcoming.
"Most people are happy things are moving on," Karsnitz said. "The great majority of clients have been pleased."
New Castle County Superior Court Judge Joseph Slights III approved the landmark $123 million settlement between Bradley’s victims and Beebe Medical Center, the Medical Society of Delaware and six doctors a little more than a year ago. After attorney’s fees, victims had $89 million to divide among them.
Asked why it has taken so long for the money to be dispersed, Hudson said, “It’s a very unique type of case. There’s lots of new territory. I didn’t anticipate it going this long, but the chancellor wanted to do this right.”