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NH lawmakers up max payouts to alleged victims of abuse at YDC

Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH. Dan Tuohy photo.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH. Dan Tuohy photo.

Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a bill into law that will increase the settlement caps for people who allege they were sexually and physically abused as children while held in state-run detention facilities.

Under the new law, the maximum payout for those who agree to forgo civil lawsuits will be $2.5 million, up from $1.5 million. Victims can now also be compensated for time spent in solitary confinement. The measure allows the state to pay off the settlements over a multi-year period instead of in a lump sum.

The bipartisan legislation was hashed out in consultation with attorneys who are representing more than 1,000 alleged victims who have come forward in recent years.

“The passage of this legislation represents a thoughtful compromise between the state and plaintiffs’ counsel, reflecting our shared dedication to providing victims with a fair and efficient resolution process,” said New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella in a statement. “We believe that this new framework will offer a meaningful alternative to traditional litigation for the vast majority of victims, while also ensuring budgetary certainty and protecting the interests of taxpayers.”

Since launching the settlement process last year as a way to avoid civil litigation, the state has received more than 400 claims. As of April, the state had awarded more than $60 million in payouts.

In addition to raising the individual payout caps, the new legislation will raise the total fund pool to $160 million, and it also streamlines the application process and extends the filing deadline by six months to June 2025.

While the changes could result in additional settlements, an unknown number of cases are still likely headed for trial.

Earlier this year, David Meehan, who went public with his claims of horrific sexual and physical abuse at YDC more than three years ago, prevailed in his civil case following a closely watched trial. While the jury awarded Meehan $38 million in compensation, the state contends it is only able to pay Meehan $475,000 in damages, citing a state law. The issue is now before a Superior Court judge.

There are still more than 1,000 civil lawsuits pending over alleged abuse that took place over the span of several decades, with the next round of cases slated to start later this year.

State prosecutors are also continuing to pursue criminal charges against at least 10 former employees of YDC for physically and sexually abusing minors.

While the Attorney General’s office seeks to prosecute those former government employees, it has denied that the state itself should be held financially liable in the civil trials, arguing the actions were carried out by rogue employees and were not evidence of systemic failures to protect children.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.
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