County eyes settlement to three sexual abuse cases

Chautauqua County is looking to settle three claims against the county, all regarding sexual misconduct, going back decades.

During the county Legislature’s August meeting, lawmakers approved a resolution regarding an insurance coverage claim. According to the resolution, the claims were made against the county for alleged improper acts between 1969 and 1978.

After the resolution was passed, The Post-Journal/OBSERVER was able to track down what is believed to be one of the three lawsuits.

In the lawsuit against the county, an individual who was identified as a resident of North Carolina said she was around 10 years old she was in the county’s foster care system in 1970. During that time, a “foster father” sexually abused her in various ways multiple times.

According to the suit, the abuse was reported to a friend. That person told a caseworker, but the abuse continued.

“Plaintiff continued to be sexually abused after she reported the sexual abuse to her friend. Defendants (county) did not remove Plaintiff from the home for several weeks, and in those several weeks Plaintiff was sexually abused on multiple occasions,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges the county “knew or should have known that Perpetrator was unfit, dangerous, and a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the minors entrusted to their care.”

The lawsuit states that the county’s foster system was “failing to adequately supervise its contract agencies by, among other things, imposing and enforcing appropriate standards for the safety and welfare of the children in its care; failing to ensure that caseworkers were adequately trained and supervised; failing to ensure that caseworkers had manageable caseloads; failing to ensure regular caseworker visits and unannounced visits in environments where the foster child would feel comfortable and unthreatened in disclosing abuse or maltreatment; failing to ensure that placement decisions were informed and safe; and failing to review and evaluate a foster care provider’s policies and procedures with regard to the safety of children, including without limitation, those to prevent sexual assault.”

During the Administrative Service Committee’s August meeting, county attorney Patrick Slagle said the suit was brought up because in 2019 New York state, under the “Child Victim’s Act,” allowed previous claims that had expired to be brought back.

“Going back, we had insurance coverage to cover these types of claims,” he said. However, when cases go back to the 1960s the county, as well as insurance companies, struggle to find proper documentation to state who is responsible for what.

Slagle added that some insurance companies have merged with other insurance companies, which makes it even more difficult to determine responsibility.

Because of that, Slagle said they have been negotiating with the Continental Insurance Company. “We have been in conversations with the insurance carrier when it comes to settlements where they’ll cover certain dollar amount of claims. We think it’s an adequate settlement. It should cover many claims that are against us,” he said.

The resolution does not list a dollar amount, but Slagle said it permits the insurance company to provide the county funds that it will use toward settlements.

The resolution was unanimously approved without comment.


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