New Jersey residents may recount allegations made by Horace Mann alumni for episodes of abuse. More specifically, 32 former students of the Horace Mann pre-kindergarten through 12th grade preparatory school in New York city have said that staff members and teachers sexually abused them.
It is alleged that the sexual abuse lasted from the 1970s to the 1990s. Seven or eight former teachers have been accused of having sexual relations with several male students or of trying to seduce them. A total of sixteen former teachers are currently involved.
Many of the 32 former male students have been meeting with school officials to discuss and negotiate possible compensation. Currently, six students have reached an agreement with the school. The details of that agreement have not been made public. To get to a settlement, many of the 32 men described incidents in detail in front of administration officials, lawyers, insurance agents and mediators.
The settlements are said to have only been for a fraction of the requested amounts. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the offers varied between 1.5 percent and three percent of what the alleged victims requested.
Not all of the alleged victims entered into settlement negotiations. One former male student, identified as M., filed suit against Horace Mann in Superior Court in Bergen County, New Jersey. M. claimed that his former music teacher and celebrated music conductor sexually abused him around 450 times from 1973 to 1977. The music teacher died in 2011.
According to M.’s attorney, M. did not realize that what happened between him and the music teacher was sexual abuse until reading a New York Times article that reported allegations from other former students. Instead, M. thought that what happened between him and his music teacher was love. M.’s attorney stated that because of the abuse M. lost roughly $21 million in earnings and suffered from drug addiction.
Why one lawsuit was filed in New Jersey
In M.’s complaint against Horace Mann, it states that Horace Mann is responsible because Horace Mann knew or should have known that the music teacher was committing sexual abuse.
M. could not file suit in New York, where the school is located, because in New York, lawsuits or criminal charges must be brought before a victim turns 23 years old, and the victim passed that age before filing the lawsuit.
However, in New Jersey, the NJ Supreme Court has interpreted the states’ statute of limitations as a broad and flexible statute (Hardwicke v. American Boychoir School, 188 N.J. 69 (2006)). The Court provided further clarification by establishing a two-step process when determining if the statute of limitations (SOL) has been tolled (R.L. v. Voytac, 199 N.J. 285 (2009)).
Under this standard, the Court looks at the totality of the circumstances and when the injured party discovered that the sexual abuse had taken place, or when a reasonable person should have discovered that the abuse had occurred. The plaintiff is permitted to bring a claim within two years of that date, regardless of his or her age at the time of filing. In this case, M. discovered that what happened between him and the music teacher was not love, but was instead sexual abuse in June 2012.
Even if the complaint had been filed more than two years from that date of the discovered abuse, New Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse Act (CSAA) provides a second chance for plaintiff’s to bring suit. Under the CSAA’s tolling provision, the running of the SOL may be tolled because of the plaintiff’s mental state, duress caused by the defendant, or any other equitable grounds. Based on legislative intent and the Court’s interpretation of the CSAA, alleged victims of abuse are granted flexibility when presenting evidence to meet the SOL and justify the application of tolling.
The consequences of sexual abuse
Sexual abuse can be very subtle yet very damaging. Many individuals subjected to abuse suppress the trauma that occurred for years and fail to connect what happened to problems that develop later in life, causing damage to their lives and those of loved ones. Victims of sexual abuse can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol problems, difficulty maintaining healthy personal relationships, and development of criminal tendencies. But this does not mean that those who have experienced sexual abuse are unable to recover.
Someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse could benefit from consulting with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer who can help the victim obtain compensation for any loss or trauma caused by the abuse as well as take the steps necessary in order to hold the perpetrator accountable.