Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Methodist Church, Children’s Home Under North Carolina’s New Safe Child Act

Photo of sign and main building of The Children's Home in the rain.

(Charlotte, NC) – A North Carolina man has filed a lawsuit alleging he was sexually abused by his house parents while living at the Children’s Home in Winston-Salem in the early 1970s.

The suit, filed April 16, 2020, is one of the first to take advantage of a new state law that gives any adult who was sexually abused as a child, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred, the opportunity to seek compensation for their injuries.

Sexual Abuse at a Church-Run Children’s Home

Michael Lakins, now 59, claims in the lawsuit that he was sexually abused starting at age 10 by Jack and Beatrice Biggs, who were assigned as house parents to Anna Haines Cottage, one of 12 on-campus dwellings designated for the care of orphans. The abuse stopped after three years when the couple was believed to have been fired over their sexually abusive actions, the suit states.

Lakins’ suit was filed in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County as Lakins v. Western Conference United Methodist. Defendants are the Western Conference of the United Methodist Church, which oversaw the home, and the Children’s Home, Inc.

“My client has endured a lifetime of suffering as a result of this abuse – a lifetime he’ll never get back. He and other sexual abuse victims who otherwise would be time-barred from suing now have the opportunity to confront their abusers and those who aided and protected them and to seek redress and justice,” said attorney Richard M. Serbin, of Charlotte. Serbin heads the Sexual Abuse Division of Janet, Janet & Suggs, a national law firm.

“North Carolina lawmakers should be lauded for recognizing the trauma child sexual abuse victims live with, and for giving them the chance to hold accountable the institutions that failed to protect them, failed to report the abuse to authorities, and covered up the abuse to protect their reputations,” Serbin said.

According to the suit, the abuse occurred in the couple’s bedroom and included fondling, oral sex and sodomy. The couple also abused other children in their care, the suit alleges. Beatrice Biggs, 82, and Jack Biggs, who died in 2015, are not included as defendants.

The Safe Child Act: How it Helps Survivors

North Carolina’s Safe Child Act of 2019 reformed the state’s laws dealing with sexual abuse. North Carolina joined other states, including New York, New Jersey and California, in enacting legislation providing a limited opening of their statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits to be brought. North Carolina’s law opened the period for two years.

“These are compassionate laws, just laws” said Serbin, noting many child victims of sexual assault take decades to come to terms with what happened to them. By then, statutes of limitations prohibited them from the opportunity to seek justice.

The suit is based on counts of negligence; negligent hiring, retention and supervision; breach of fiduciary duty, and constructive fraud.

About Richard M. Serbin

Serbin has more than 32 years’ experience suing the Catholic Church and other religious denominations for child sexual abuse. He is recognized as a trailblazer in the area of child sexual abuse by clergy, winning jury verdicts against a bishop, Catholic diocese and predatory priest. He has represented more than 400 abuse survivors across the U.S.

About Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC

The Sexual Abuse Division of Janet, Janet & Suggs has represented thousands of men and women across the nation who were abused as children by trusted authority figures such as clergy members, priests, doctors, and coaches.

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