WILMINGTON, Del. — A federal jury awarded $2.4 million Monday to a New Jersey man who was repeatedly sexually abused by a Marist brother some 30 years ago.
Brian Elliott, 44, of Cedar Knolls, N.J., testified that Damian Galligan, a member of the Marist Catholic religious order, sexually abused him starting in 1977 when Elliott was 8 years old and continued until he was 14.
Two of those hundreds of incidents of abuse occurred in Delaware in the summer of 1981 when Galligan took the young Elliott on a trip across state lines to visit Washington, D.C., which is what brought the case to the U.S. District Court in Delaware.
While Elliott said he was abused by Galligan in at least four states — including New Jersey where he lived, New York where Galligan lived and Virginia — it was only in Delaware that Elliott could file a civil suit.
This is because Delaware's 2007 Child Victim's Act briefly lifted the statute of limitations in the law to allow adults who were victims of sexual abuse as children to file civil suits for damages against their abusers.
Galligan, who had been a former principal and teacher at Mount St. Michael Academy in New York, fired his attorney last week and decided not to appear in court Monday. This left the defense table empty for Monday's short trial.
The jury of eight, after hearing testimony, took about 90 minutes to decide that Elliott deserved $1.4 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
The judgment, however, was largely symbolic because it is believed that Galligan does not have any significant assets to pay the civil award.
However, Elliott said the verdict was still an "extremely important symbol" and one that will help him going forward.
In a prepared statement, Elliott thanked the jury "for allowing me to expose the truth about matters which have been hidden away for far too long, and for seeing that justice was done not only for me but also for all the many other victims who have been denied their day in court by armies of lawyers and church bureaucrats who are more interested in a cover-up than in protecting innocent children."
Elliott's attorney, Raeann Warner, said they now hope that an appeals court will restore their claims against the Marist order itself and the Archdiocese of New York.
While Galligan did not appear in person Monday, he did make a brief appearance before the jury in a 2012 video deposition taken in St. Louis, where Galligan is living at a religious retirement home.
In the short video clip, the white-haired Galligan, wearing glasses, a beige shirt and a gold cross around his neck, complains of failing health and says he feels "sorry for Brian and the problems he had incurred."
Asked directly whether he admits he sexually abused Elliott, Galligan answered, "Yes, I do."
He also admitted that he abused many other boys, but said he could not remember how many or who the first one was.
Galligan said he now recognizes what he did was wrong and a crime. He said he did not think it was wrong at the time he committed the acts.
His defense before trial had been that he never abused Elliott in Delaware.
Elliott testified that his grandmother, who attended church at the New York City parish where Galligan worked, first introduced Galligan to the family in 1976.
Elliott said Galligan would regularly come over for Sunday dinner at his Ringwood, N.J., home. "He paid a lot of attention to me and gave me a lot of gifts," Elliott said, adding he enjoyed the attention and presents.
Sometime in 1977, Galligan obtained the permission of Elliott's parents to take him out on weekends, including sleeping over at his home. Elliott said the improper behavior began almost immediately with Galligan insisting on taking a shower with him, ritually undressing and cleaning him, and touching and fondling him in the process.
Over the years, Elliott said Galligan became bolder and more aggressive, telling Elliott that what they were doing was "normal" and "part of God's plan."
Elliott told the jury that the abuse ended when he was 14. Galligan spent a night at Elliott's home, where he again sexually abused Elliott, and left behind a stained T-shirt. When Elliott's mother found the T-shirt, Elliott said he told her what happened the night before.
Elliott said his parents then wrote a letter to Galligan and "we never heard from him again."
After the abuse ended, Elliott said he began drinking and found as he grew older that he had flashbacks and nightmares and was not able to maintain a steady relationship with women. Two of his marriages, including one with two children, ended in divorce.
Psychiatrist Carol Tavani testified that Elliott continues to suffer severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the sexual abuse and he will probably need therapy for the rest of his life. She said Elliott was "broken" and Galligan is the one that broke him.
A second victim of Galligan, Dr. Peter Marghella of New York, testified via video about the abuse he too suffered as a child at the hands of Galligan. Marghella, like Elliott, testified that the abuse was almost "ritualistic" and increased over time.
In her closing argument, Warner, Elliott's attorney, asked the jury to send a message with its decision and award damages both to punish Galligan for what he did and to warn other "would be serial abusers that this will not be tolerated in this state."