Church abuse ads surge following new state laws

Nov 16, 2021

Church abuse ads surge following new state laws

Television advertising by law firms and other seeking claims against the Catholic Church over child abuse allegations spiked in 2021 following changes to state laws extending the stature of limitations for bringing such claims.

Over 25,000 of these ads have aired this year through October at an estimated cost of more than $6.4 million. This is more than four times the number of ads and amount spent on Church abuse litigation ads in 2020.

Church Abuse Litigation, 2020 vs 2021YTD

Number of Ads

No of Ads, 2020 vs 2021 YTD

While monthly ad volumes this year have surpassed those of 2020, the advertising has particularly increased since June when church child abuse litigation has been the second-most targeted topic across all mass tort advertising as measured by estimated ad spending.

Top Mass Tort Ad Targets, Jun-Oct 2021

Est. Ad Spending

Top Targets, Jun-Oct 2021, Sp

The dominant sponsor of these ads this year has been Right to Fight — a self-described “awareness and marketing group” whose website claims an affiliation with Bedford Hills, New York-based Lacuna Ventures. Right to Fight sponsored about three-quarters of the ads soliciting church sexual abuse claims.

Right to Fight television ad. The most widely-aired television ad soliciting Church abuse claims this year through October with about 10,000 airings at an estimated cost of over $3.5 million.

Many of the ads on this topic, like the one above, explicitly reference the Catholic Church while others refer to alleged abuse by clergy generally or by members of other religious organizations like the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) as seen in the ad below.

Television ad soliciting claims of sexual abuse against the LDS Mormon Church sponsored by the Slater Slater Schulman firm. 

As noted in a recent Reuters article on this topic, the advertising spike coincided with the August deadline to bring lawsuits under a 2019 New York state law allowing victims of child sex abuse to file claims even decades later.

Approximately 11,000 lawsuits have been filed in New York under this law in the past two years.

California enacted a similar law in 2019 that extended the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual abuse to bring lawsuits to until they are 40 years old, or within five years of the discovery of the abuse.

As a reflection of the impact of these state laws on advertisers seeking potential plaintiffs, the top five and eight of the top 10 local markets for Church abuse ads were in California and New York. 

Church Abuse Litigation Advertising

Media Market Heat Map

Est. Ad Spending, Jun-Oct 2021

Church Abuse DMA Map, Sp, Jun-Oct 2021

Laws extending or eliminating the statute of limitations for these claims have also been enacted in a number of other states including Massachusetts, Colorado, and Louisiana.

The New Jersey window for filing a claim closes November 30 which may encourage increased advertising targeting TV viewers in that state in the coming weeks.

Assured Research, a research and advisory firm serving the insurance industry, found that X Ante data on advertising soliciting Church abuse claims serves as a reliable leading indicator of subsequent lawsuits and later bankruptcies by many Catholic dioceses as a result of the litigation.

The Assured Research analysts found that the litigation advertising on this topic in recent years efficiently targeted media markets in those states that had passed childhood victim statutes like those mentioned above and could assist defendants and their insurers in forecasting the location of future high volumes of lawsuits and possible bankruptcies.

Catholic dioceses in the United States have paid more than $3 billion in sexual abuse settlements over the course of several decades.  The average settlement for clergy sex abuse victims is approximately $268,000.