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Jury awards victim $8 million in Duluth clergy sex abuse case

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A jury has awarded $8.1 million in damages to a clergy sex abuse victim who said he was assaulted several times by a priest in the Duluth Diocese in the late 1970s, MPR News reports.

It's the first such case to go to trial under Minnesota's Child Victims Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations to allow victims to sue for sexual abuse which occurred decades ago. The window for filing claims closes in May 2016.

The plaintiff, a 52-year-old man known in court as Doe 30, claimed he had been sexually abused by the Rev. J. Vincent Fitzgerald at St. Catherine's Church in Squaw Lake, Minnesota, over a period of two weeks in 1978, when he was 15-years-old.

Doe 30's lawsuit against the Diocese of Duluth and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate – the order to which Fitzgerald belonged – claimed the two entities were negligent in supervising the priest.

Fitzgerald died in 2009.

The six jurors deliberated for several hours Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning before delivering their verdict, the Star Tribune reports.

The jurors found the Duluth Diocese was 60 percent at fault for the abuse, and the Oblates were 40 percent at fault, because of their "negligent supervision" of Fitzgerald, according to the Star Tribune. They awarded Doe 30 $8.1 million for pain, suffering, loss of earnings and future medical costs.

"It’s an important day for all clergy abuse survivors," said Doe 30's attorney Jeff Anderson in a news release. "This verdict sends a message and a wake-up call to all communities and organizations, near and far, that the most important thing is the safety of our children."

The Oblates order was originally named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but was later removed from the case by a judge, said the Star Tribune. That means the judgment is to be paid solely by the Diocese.

Just about a year ago, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis avoided its first jury trial under the law by reaching a settlement with plaintiffs who had filed sexual abuse claims against it.

The archdiocese has since filed for bankruptcy protection, which has put a hold on any further legal proceedings. The reorganization plan is expected to include a process by which plaintiffs will receive monetary settlements to resolve their claims against the archdiocese.

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