School Sexual Assault Lawyer
When we send our kids off to school, we place a significant amount of trust in our local school system to educate them and keep them reasonably safe while in school. This is why it is so shocking and gut-wrenching when a parent discovers their child has been the victim of sexual assault by a teacher or coach at their school. Such abuse can be so traumatic that your child may require years of psychological and emotional therapy to even approach a full recovery.Sexual Assaults Occur Far More Often Than You Think
You may think, "Of course, sexual assault by a school teacher or coach is terrible, but it is so rare I do not need to worry about my kid." Think again.
A comprehensive national review of teacher discipline data was conducted by USA Today. This well-respected news publication examined educator misconduct and licensure databases in all fifty states, including an exhaustive study of numerous pages of employment records and court filings. The findings were genuinely shocking.
USA Today discovered systematic failures to protect the safety and welfare of students. For example, education agencies nationwide routinely ignored a federal prohibition on signing deals with teachers suspected of abuse. These "secrecy deals" are contracts prohibiting the release of any details of sexual abuse or assault by a teacher in exchange for the teacher quitting their job quietly. These secrecy agreements made it easier for sexually abusive teachers to find new employment in a different school district or another work setting (e.g., a daycare center) where they could work with children.
USA Today discovered that many schools fail to do basic background checks. For example, a private high school in Louisiana hired a teacher who was a registered sex offender in Texas. If that was not bad enough, students at the school were the ones to discover the teacher's troubling past by simply conducting a Google search.
The in-depth investigation by USA Today also revealed that school administrators are rarely penalized by state licensing officials for failing to report a teacher's resignation with a documented history of problems at the school. This is quite troubling when you consider that forty-one states have laws on the books requiring school administrators to report the dismissal or resignation of a teacher to state officials. Unfortunately, violations of these laws virtually never result in a penalty or sanction.Abusive Teachers Easily Find New Jobs
You would think having an alleged sexual assault or incident of abuse on your record would permanently damage your reputation and ability to find new employment. Not for teachers, apparently. Many teachers fired after accusations of abusive behavior did not have difficulty finding work elsewhere. For example, a teacher in New Jersey who sexually assaulted several elementary school students had a record of prior sexual abuse in a different school district. The same goes for an Oregon substitute teacher who touched a student's genitals under a table and an Illinois teacher who forced students to eat food from his crotch.Incidents of Sexual Abuse and Assault Increasing
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing reportedly opened nearly 330 investigations into teachers for sexual crimes against children in 2014. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, that is more than double the amount in 2008-2009. Other states have seen similar jumps in sexual abuse incidents. For example, Texas has seen a 27 percent increase in investigations into alleged inappropriate teacher-student relationships. In Alabama, the state investigated 31 sexual abuse cases in 2013, nearly triple the number it studied just four years earlier in 2009.Taking Legal Action
If you or your child were the victims of sexual abuse by a teacher or coach, you must stand up and take action. Do not let the abuser succeed by remaining silent. A sexual assault survivor may be able to file a civil legal claim against a defendant or defendant other than the abuser. For example, under California law, an employer may be liable for an employee's harmful acts if there is evidence that the employer failed to investigate earlier complaints or check the perpetrator's references. This type of claim is called "negligent hiring."Negligent Hiring Lawsuit Against a School
If a school hired a teacher who abused you or your child, it is quite possible that the school failed to do its due diligence in checking the background and references of the teacher. If such negligence occurred, your lawyer should be able to pursue a claim against the school for negligent hiring. This is an action brought by individuals who claim that they have been hurt by an employee and the employee's tendency for causing harm was known to, or should have been known to, the employer.Elements of negligent hiring in California
California law provides that an employer must investigate employees' backgrounds to determine their fitness to teach and conduct other related job duties. A school must also remain informed of the employee's fitness for the position. This means that if a school is notified of alleged abuse and does nothing, the school can be held liable for the harm caused by that inaction. The legal elements necessary to prove a negligent hiring claim include the following:
- The employer (i.e., the school) had a duty to hire and monitor employees;
- The employer knew or should have known that the employee posed a safety risk to others; and
- The employer breached the duty.
- The employer's breach of duty caused harm to others.
It is tough to quantify the harm caused by sexual abuse or molestation at a young age. The effects of sexual abuse can be so traumatizing that it permanently harms the victim for life. Some sexual abuse survivors report diminished interest in social engagement, the inability to engage in a healthy, committed relationship when they became adults, an increased tendency to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol, depression, and so forth. They are also more likely than non-victims to attempt or consider suicide. If you decide to hire a school sexual assault lawyer, one of their primary tasks will be effectively communicating the damage done to you or your child to the defense counsel for the school and/or a jury.Examples of School Sexual Assault Lawsuits
There are many examples of children and their parents standing up and fighting for their rights in court against negligent schools and administrators who tried to sweep sexually abusive teachers under the rug. For example, the Pomona Unified School District was ordered to pay $8 million to a former student who was sexually abused by her middle school teacher in 2011.
In another example, the San Diego Unified School District was ordered to pay over one million dollars for its role in allowing a teacher to engage in a sexual relationship with a student from the time she was 16 years old until she graduated.
Another multi-million dollar jury verdict worth mentioning involved Chino Hills High School. A jury awarded $5.6 million to the family of a teenager sexually abused by her science teacher at this school. The teacher reportedly molested the student, and the school district took virtually no action. The evidence showed that the district "punished" the teacher by ordering him not to be around the girl, who was only 14 years old at the time. The district never followed up after issuing this "penalty." The community at large discovered this sickening situation when a neighbor of the student saw the teacher use a ladder to try and get inside the girl's second-story bedroom.
Another example is a verdict in a case involving two boys who were sexually abused by their Los Angeles Unified School District elementary teacher. The Los Angeles jury reviewed the shocking evidence and awarded $3 million to each of the boys in compensation, according to the Los Angeles Times. The abusive teacher is currently serving a 25-year prison term after being convicted of committing lewd acts with thirteen children (yes, the two boys were not his only victims). The school district accepted liability for negligent hiring, supervision, and teacher retention.
Watch YouTube Video: Music Teacher Sex Abuse Case Triggers Lawsuit Against SJ School District. In the following video, CBS SF Bay Area news reports on a lawsuit that alleges the San Jose Union School District failed to protect students from a sexual predator.Sacramento Sexual Abuse Attorney
I'm Ed Smith, a Sacramento sexual abuse lawyer practicing personal injury law since 1982. If you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual abuse, please call me today at 916.921.6400 for free, friendly advice.
Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 10.22.20]
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay
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