Aiding Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse: What’s a Good Samaritan to Do?


The provision of financial assistance to victims of clergy sexual abuse seeking to obtain mental health counseling and treatment may result in civil liability for religious and other organizations undertaking such aid if precautions are not observed.  This newsletter highlights how Pennsylvania law has recently been applied and issues organizations in every state should consider before stepping into the role of Good Samaritans.

On September 29, 2011, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in Unglo v. Zubik, No. 1749 WDA 2010, 2011 PA Super 207 (Sup. Ct. PA Sept. 29, 2011), addressing the issue of whether a religious organization that gratuitously undertakes to provide financial assistance to a victim of clergy sexual abuse, and then unilaterally terminates that assistance is liable for damages incurred by the victim after the termination of the assistance.  The court held that an entity that provides financial assistance is not obligated to continue that aid indefinitely.  Rather, that assistance may be discontinued as long as the recipient is not left in a worse position than when the aid began.  The Unglo case raises questions about the nature of so-called Good Samaritan laws and the liability implications for religious organizations that voluntarily undertake to provide financial assistance for mental health counseling and treatment to victims of clergy sexual abuse. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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