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Settlement reduction ‘unethical and unfair’, says abuse survivor

07 February 2020

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse had his settlement reduced by more than one third by the Church’s insurer, Ecclesiastical, based on the evidence of a psychiatrist who had never met the claimant, his lawyer has confirmed.

The story was first reported in the Insurance Post on Tuesday. The survivor — referred to as Tony — alleges that he was abused by two individuals. He suffered from mental-health issues after he first disclosed the abuse — an experience that he described as a “reawakening” of the trauma.

In 2017, Tony rejected an offer of settlement from Ecclesiastical. He was in hospital, having attempted to take his own life, when a lower offer was made. A Part 36 offer is routinely made by either the claimant or the defendant as a tactical step to convince the other party to settle the claim early, without the matter having to go to court. It must be accepted within 21 days.

Tony told Insurance Post that this was “unethical and unfair” because of his vulnerable state at the time. “The initial offered settlement was completely derisory. It took no proper consideration for the lifetime effects of this kind of abuse.”

His lawyer, Richard Scorer QC, of Slater and Gordon, wrote in a letter to the insurers at the time: “Do they seriously expect me to present this news to my client who is on suicide watch?”

Mr Scorer was attending an accountability and reparations hearing at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) this week, but a spokeswoman for Slater and Gordon confirmed the facts of the case.

Ecclesiastical had used the assessment of Dr Tony Maden, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Imperial College, London to calculate the second lower offer.

A letter to Mr Scorer from Ecclesiastical’s lawyers concluded that, based on Professor Madon’s “preliminary views” and other factors, ten per cent of the difficulties which Tony had experience in later life were attributable to the abuse that he had suffered; but because one of his two abusers has not been convicted, this was halved to five per cent.

Professor Maden told Insurance Post that he saw nothing wrong with so-called “desktop” reports, “so long as the parameters and limitations of the opinion are made clear. It can have the advantage of avoiding a further medicolegal examination, which many claimants find distressing if not traumatic.”

Ecclesiastical has previously been reprimanded by IICSA for its failures to treat survivors in line with its own guiding principles (News, 19 July 2019).

It said in a statement that it would not comment on individual cases. The statement continued: “We continuously review our claims handling process to ensure we treat survivors as sensitively and empathetically as possible. As previously stated, we have learned important lessons about the potential distress caused to survivors by discussing the details of their case in the media. For this reason, we will not comment on individual cases or claims.”

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