A California jury says the Jehovah's Witnesses must shoulder part of the blame for the alleged molestation of a girl by one of its members. The jury's verdict orders the religious group to pay a record $21 million in punitive damages to the victim, now 26, reports MSNBC. It also has to pay a portion of the $7 million in compensatory damages awarded earlier. “This is the first case I know of where a church has been hit with liability involving a rank-and-file member,” says an attorney for the congregation. He plans to appeal.
The jury found that senior members of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Fremont were aware that one member was convicted of the sexual abuse of a child but, following national church policy, kept the information secret. The member then allegedly molested the plaintiff over a two-year period beginning when she was 9. The accused member was never criminally charged with molesting the plaintiff, but police are now investigating. The Oakland Tribune calls it the "nation's largest verdict for a victim of sex abuse involving a religious institution."