The Boy Scouts of America are nearing a settlement with lawyers for sex-abuse victims that marks a major step for the youth group’s efforts to end the largest bankruptcy case ever filed over childhood abuse, people familiar with the matter said.
The Boy Scouts are close to agreeing on a victim-compensation framework with a coalition of victims’ law firms that represent the bulk of the 84,000 men who stepped forward to file claims over sexual abuse in scouting programs, the people familiar with the matter said. Details are still being hammered out, and there is no guarantee a final settlement will materialize, they said.
A deal with the law-firm coalition would mark a breakthrough for the Boy Scouts after 16 costly months under court protection. Any settlement proposal will still be subject to a vote by survivors and requires bankruptcy-court approval to take effect.
The Boy Scouts filed for chapter 11 in February 2020, hoping to resolve a wave of civil litigation by victims after several states suspended statutes of limitation on sexual abuse, allowing survivors to sue regardless of how long ago the misconduct took place.
The organization has said that the vast majority of abuse claims predate its modern youth protection program instituted in 1990, and that scouting is safer than ever before. It said that at least 85% of claims allege a first instance of abuse prior to that year.
The Boy Scouts, founded in 1910, have been plagued by reports of sexual misconduct by employees and volunteers, but it wasn’t until last year that the full scope of the allegations became clear in bankruptcy court.
Some victims’ advocates say the organization provided a perfect environment for abusers to take advantage of boys who were often separated from their families on trips in remote areas in a culture that fostered strict allegiance to scout masters and other adults.
For decades, the Boy Scouts kept confidential files detailing reports of abuse, but victim advocates say officials often failed to report allegations to law enforcement, or to prevent the abuse from reoccurring. The number of claims against the Boy Scouts far surpasses those made against other organizations such as the Catholic Church or other religious groups.
Some victims’ advocates said that while the agreement appeared to be the largest of its kind, it would almost certainly provide far less per victim than other recent settlements, such as the $500 million Michigan State University has agreed to pay to more than 300 victims of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.
The tentative deal follows months of closed-door negotiations that also involve an official committee of victims and hundreds of affiliated local councils spread across the country. The Boy Scouts have agreed to pay roughly $250 million in cash and other assets under the chapter 11 proposal, which also includes at least $500 million contributed by the local councils, people familiar with the matter said.
A compensation trust would administer survivors’ claims and distribute payments. Victims are looking for much of their compensation to come from insurance companies that wrote policies covering the Boy Scouts decades ago, when most of the abuse occurred.
The Boy Scouts have said that legal and administrative costs of chapter 11 could reach $150 million by August.