This was a pretrial hearing on the motion to add a punitive damage count to a complaint against the Catholic Bishop of Chicago for alleged negligent conduct in hiring, supervising and retaining a priest who allegedly abused John Doe when he was a third-grade student at St. Agatha Academy. The archdiocese argued that Doe shouldn’t have to prove that representatives actually knew about the priest’s wrongdoing and wicked proclivities.
The trial judge ruled that Doe’s evidence about the “utter indifference” of archdiocesan employees’ safety for the young students could justify an exemplary or a claim of punitive damages. The judge certified the question of law for immediate appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court. The appeals panel concluded that the judge “used the appropriate standard” in concluding that Doe may demand punitive damages in his amended complaint.
“Simply put,” Justice Sheldon A. Harris explained, “the trial court may allow a claim for punitive damages if the evidence would reasonably support a finding that defendant acted willfully, or with such gross negligence as to indicate a wanton disregard of the rights of others.”