Fremont: Court upholds $2.8M award for Oakley woman molested by Jehova's Witnesses member
A state appeals court in San Francisco on Monday upheld a $2.8 million compensatory damage award for a woman who was molested as a child by an adult member of the North Fremont Jehovah's Witnesses Congregation.
But Conti agreed before trial not to collect any damages from Kendrick in exchange for his not participating in the trial and agreeing not to harass her. Thus, Conti's total compensation from the congregation and Watchtower was $2.8 million, Simons said.
The appeals court upheld the compensatory award on the ground that the congregation and Watchtower failed in their duty to supervise Kendrick and protect Conti during their field service.
Conti also originally won an additional $8.6 million in punitive damages from Watchtower and the congregation on the basis of her claim that church leaders adhered to a "secrecy policy" about child molestation.
But the appeals panel set aside that award, saying the congregation elders "had no duty to depart from Watchtower's policy of confidentiality and warn the members of the congregation that Kendrick had molested a child."
Siggins wrote that imposition of a general duty to warn would be a "considerable" burden on a church and could deter wrongdoers from seeking help from church leaders.
At the trial, Conti's lawyers cited a 1989 letter sent by Watchtower to all elders in the nation, instructing them that "elders must exercise extraordinary caution when it comes to handling personal information about the private lives of others" and that "unauthorized disclosure of confidential information can result in costly lawsuits."
A congregation elder testified that the policy was intended to protect confidential ministerial communications, and that the church sought to educate parents about how to protect their children from abuse.
Simons said Conti, a veterinary technician, now lives in the Stockton area. He said no decision has been made on whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court to reinstate the punitive award.
"This is really a public policy issue, and of course we disagree as to what is the best public policy," Simons said.
"Ms. Conti is of the view that public policy should favor requiring churches to do all they can to prevent further abuse by identified child molesters from happening, rather than just requiring that they pay money to victims after the abuse occurs," he said.
A lawyer for Jehovah's Witnesses was not available for comment.