A Philadephia jury has handed down an $11 million verdict to a girl who was sent by an adoption agency to live with a couple that subjected her to physical and sexual abuse in their foster home.
The award was handed down in favor of S.S., now 22 years old, who sued Bethanna Inc. and foster parents Walter and Deborah Scott. The award was broken down into $10 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages solely against the Scotts. Bethanna is responsible for 10 percent of the verdict.
“This verdict sends a clear message that crimes and abuse perpetuated upon our children will not be tolerated. Our client’s voice was finally heard,” said Nadeem Bezar of Kline & Specter, who along with Emily Marks represented S.S.
In her lawsuit, S.S. claimed that starting in 2000 and between the ages of 6 and 10 she was molested and repeatedly sexually assaulted by Walter Scott and beaten by Deborah Scott. Her court papers also noted that Walter Scott had been under investigation for child rape based on accusations from other children in the foster home, and in 2016, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and rape of a child, among other charges.
The main allegation in S.S.’s lawsuit was that Bethanna failed to sufficiently investigate the Scotts’ criminal history, which also included welfare fraud convictions.
“Defendant Bethanna’s conduct is shocking, outrageous, and demonstrated deliberate indifference to S.S.’s safety and the safety of numerous other children who were eventually placed in the Scotts’ foster home over the next decade until the home eventually closed,” S.S.’s court papers said.
She also alleged that Bethanna refused to remove her from the Scotts’ home despite reports by caseworkers that she was being abused and was in danger.
In its pretrial memorandum, Bethanna denied any negligence.
“Plaintiff’s sexual abuse at the hands of Mr. Scott, unknown to Bethanna and not contemporaneously reported to any person or agency, was not learned until plaintiff herself disclosed the abuse in August 2015,” court papers said. “She testified that one occurrence took place during the time she was fostering with the Scotts, while the other two times occurred after she had been adopted and was no longer being followed by Bethanna. At no time did any case worker, supervisor, child advocate, medical or mental health provider document any suspicions that S.S. was being physically or sexually abused.”
William L. Banton of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement sent by a Bethanna spokesperson, the agency said, “Bethanna is disappointed by the verdict, but more saddened by the abuse inflicted on the real victim in this case. We applaud her courage in coming forward. Our prayers and hope are for her continued healing. While we cannot comment on all of the details of this case, as litigation remains ongoing, we wish our community to understand that our agency and staff had no knowledge whatsoever of these terrible incidents, which happened over a decade ago.”