$5 million priest abuse verdict against Catholic Diocese of Belleville upheld at appellate court

Ann Knef Jan. 22, 2011, 3:33am


The Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld a $5 million jury verdict against the Catholic Diocese of Belleville in a St. Clair County sexual abuse case.

Justice Bruce Stewart wrote the opinion released Jan. 21. Justice Thomas Welch concurred; Justice Stephen Spomer dissented.

The lawsuit was filed in 2002 by James Wisniewski. He claimed he was sexually abused by priest Raymond Kownacki numerous times between 1973 and 1978.

His claims against the Diocese included negligence, willful and wanton conduct, fraud and deceit and civil conspiracy. Wisniewski alleged that the Diocese knew that Kownacki had molested other children at other parishes before transferring him to St. Theresa's school and church in Salem.

In a case presided over by Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto in 2008, a jury awarded Wisniewski $2.4 million in compensatory damages and $2.6 in punitive damages.

The Diocese, represented by David Wells and Catherine Schroeder of Thompson and Coburn in St. Louis, had argued: that Wisniewski's claims were barred by statute of limitations and statute of repose; his claims were insufficient as a matter of law; that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying the Diocese's motion for a mental examination of Wisniewski; and that circuit court abused its discretion by striking certain references from the records and testimony of one of Wisniewski's witnesses.

Wisniewski was represented by Weilmuenster & Wigginton of Belleville and former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Philip of Troy.

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