Those who employ an individual who commits any form of sexual abuse can be held liable for the behavior of their employee. While many people are certainly familiar with the examples of the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, they may not realize that the liability also extends to abuse that happens in school.
Any school, public or private, that employs someone who engages in sexual misconduct towards a minor can be made to pay in a sexual abuse lawsuit. In fact, there have been numerous abuse court cases in recent years that have resulted in large settlements for the victims.
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to prosecuting episodes involving sexual abuse and assault in a school setting. Our sexual abuse attorneys are committed to securing the best possible result for your situation via settlement or civil action litigation. Contact our law firm today for a free consultation of your legal rights and options regarding a school sex abuse lawsuit.
Abusive Conduct is Ripe in a School Setting
Unfortunately, school sexual abuse is on the rise as there are more ways today that children can be victimized. However, if it happens to you or a loved one, you have legal rights and remedies.
The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC can help you file a legal claim against the faculty member or institution where the incident occurred. We will assist you from the start to the finish of the process as you seek the justice that you deserve.
Sobering School Abuse Statistics
While many associate the scourge of sexual assaults with religious institutions and other youth organizations, a school may be where most children face the danger of being the victim of predatory conduct.
The Department of Education studied the problem and issued a report in 2004. DOE compiled many different previous surveys of school sexual misconduct. The report cited a 2003 study that found that 9.6 percent of all students in grades 8-11 reported some sort of educator misconduct whether it included contact or not. The report detailed that children were much more likely to encounter sexual misconduct at school than they were with a priest.
The problems become even worse when abuse is expanded to include sexual harassment. Roughly three-quarters of school students in the U.S. report being a victim of sexual harassment in school.
School Abuse Often Goes Unreported
The media has focused its attention on sex abuse in the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America and rarely reports on how extensive the issue of misconduct in schools is. In 2015, around 500 teachers nationwide were arrested for sex crimes against students.
However, the number who are arrested is a small fraction of the number of perpetrators of these crimes. The problem is far worse than that. Not only does the media fail to report on how widespread the problem is, but many children are also afraid to come forward out of fear that they will not be believed. As a result, countless instances of sexual misconduct are not acted upon or counted.
Possible Reasons for the Increase in Abuse in a School Setting
There may be a number of explanations for the disturbing numbers coming out of our schools. Here are some possible reasons for the uptick in school abuse:
- Children and parents are more aware of the issue of sexual misconduct and are more likely to report these incidents than they were in the past.
- Social media and texting make it easier for teachers to communicate with students, leading to more opportunities for improper contact. Sometimes, teachers end up gaining access to their students’ social media accounts as a way of furthering contact.
- Societal mores have changed, making a wider variety of contact considered sexual abuse.
Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about school sexual abuse victims:
Who May Be Sued for Sexual Abuse?
A – Any school or school system where the abuse occurred may be sued
Public schools and private schools can be the defendants in civil lawsuits. Even though a public school is a governmental entity, they are not immune from being held liable for the actions of their employees in civil court.
The school system is one of those public-facing activities like public transit and other government services that can open the government up to legal liability. In other words, the government does not have immunity from sexual abuse cases when it comes to sexual abuse committed by its school employees and staff.
What Is Sex Abuse in School?
A – Sex abuse in school can encompass a wide variety of conduct
Sexual abuse in school is broader than physical sexual contact. Advances in technologies have broadened the types of misconduct. There are many different types of conduct that can fall under the definition of actionable sexual abuse. These can include:
- Sending a nude picture to a student by text or requesting one
- Showing either printed or digital pornography to a student
- Asking or suggesting that a student engage in a sexual relationship with a teacher
- Any other forms of sexual harassment on school grounds
- Schools can also be responsible for failing to protect students from abuse at the hands of other students.
It is critical to know that in a school context, both consensual relationships and any other sort of nonconsensual behavior can form the basis for a civil lawsuit. They are both illegal, and if they occur, you can file a legal claim against the school.
Are There Special Rules for Suing a Public School?
A – Public schools are a government agency, so there can be special rules.
Generally, when you are filing a sexual abuse claim against a governmental entity, the trial would proceed in the same way as it would when the defendant is a private entity. However, many states have different statutes of limitations when it comes to suing the government. At the same time, states are also changing their laws to allow for longer statutes of limitations when it comes to child sex abuse cases.
Many people will have the question about whether the longer statute of limitations applies to legal claims against public schools. This depends on the specific laws of the state. For example, when it changed its statute of limitations, New York specifically exempted lawsuits relating to public schools from the general rules about lawsuits against the government.
Plaintiffs have also been filing legal claims against public school staff in California under the new statutes of limitation.
In order to err on the side of caution, if you are suing a public school, you should file the lawsuit within the timeframe for filing the lawsuit against the government. Nonetheless, the laws are restoring many plaintiffs’ right to sue.
Lawsuits against private schools will have the longer statute of limitations that have been allowed by recent state bills.
Does the School Have Assets that Can Be Used to Settle the Lawsuit?
If your lawsuit is against a private school, many of them have large endowments that back them. Private schools often have sizable budgets and have cash and securities in their accounts that fund their operation. In addition, the real estate on which their school stands can be highly-valued too.
If the private school is tied to a religious organization, there may also be deep pockets backing the school. For example, the Catholic School system has financial tie-ins with the Catholic Church that give the school money.
Public schools are backed by the government and will have public funding. If the government has a legal obligation to pay because of the lawsuit, it will simply fund the money out of its budget or will borrow the money if necessary. As you will see below, there have been several large settlements involving school systems so the ability to pay is not generally an issue for them.
What Are Some Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children?
There are possible signals that your child is being abused by a teacher or someone else in school. Here are some:
- Your child experiences sudden mood changes and will not participate in activities.
- They receive suspicious text messages.
- The child shows an extreme fear of going to school.
- They suddenly regress to behavior that is well below their age level.
- The child has knowledge of sexual acts and behavior that it well beyond their age level.
When children exhibit any of these signs, parents should begin asking more questions. They should speak with the school administrator to report their concerns. They can also report the matter to law enforcement if the school does not report it on their own. At the same time, the family should retain a sexual abuse attorney to help guide them through the process.
What Are the Financial Damages in a Sexual Abuse Case?
Most of the damages in a school sexual abuse lawsuit will be non-economic ones since there are often no physical injuries and no lost wages involved (although sometimes the damage is so great that the victim’s earning capacity in adulthood is lessened). The economic damages will be for the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Long-term emotional damage
- Physical abuse
- Reputational harm
- Counseling costs
- Possible punitive damages (although these are not available in a lawsuit against the government)
Sample Sexual Abuse Settlements and Jury Verdicts Involving Schools & Teachers
Here are some examples of jury verdicts and settlement of civil lawsuits against schools and school districts:
Settlement for $5.75 in Hawaii (2013) – This is an example of a case where the abuse was committed by students on fellow students. Here, the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind was aware that children were robbing, raping and sodomizing other children on the school bus. The school did not take any action but instead took steps to cover up the pattern of abuse on a special needs student. There was a gang of students who orchestrated the attacks and ordered other students to commit acts of abuse or face retaliation themselves. The abuse went on for over a decade and for several years after school officials first learned of it.
Lawsuit Filed in California (2020) – Taking advantage of the new statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases, four plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Unified School District. The allegations all related to the actions of one physics teacher at the school over a 12-year period. At least one of the students made a complaint about the teacher to the school district. Even though the complaint was substantiated, the teacher continued to be employed at the school for years. The school district allegedly did not report the findings to law enforcement.
Los Angeles Unified School District Settlements – The Los Angeles school district has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in total settlements of lawsuits brought by victims of abuse. The district continues to be sued on a regular basis. Los Angeles paid out over $140 million alone to plaintiffs just for the actions of one teacher. Most recently, Los Angeles settled cases relating to the actions of two different teachers for $25 million and $18 million respectively. In one case, the larger settlements worked out to about $2 million per student. However, nobody really has a full account of the total amount of lawsuit settlements or how many more abuse claims will be filed against the school district.
Settlement for $9 million in Montana (2019) – One high school in the state paid a total of $9 million to 32 different plaintiffs (former students) who were the victims of one coach in the school. The alleged abuse happened over the course of several decades. The legal action claimed that the school failed to adequately protect them from abuse when they were children. In this case, the coach’s actions were particularly odious because, decades later, he still tried to contact his victims’ children on social media, even going as far as to try to add their children as his social media friends and followers.
Settlement for $2 million in Iowa (2020) – Note that the abuser at a school does not even need to be a paid employee of the school district to pursue a civil case. Abuse victims can even be eligible for financial compensation when the abuse was committed by a volunteer at the school. This is what happened in one Iowa school district. A teenage classroom volunteer was accused of molesting several five-year old girls. Some of the girls even told the teacher, who failed to report the abuse. The abuse continued for two additional months, even after the teacher was allegedly informed of the abuse.
Have You or Your Child Been a Victim of Sexual Abuse in a School? Get Legal Help Now
Call the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC if you have been the victim of sexual misconduct at a school or on school grounds. You can sue if you were victimized or if your child was abused. In many cases, it does not matter that the abuse happened years ago. You can still get justice, even later in time. Even though it may have taken you a long time to have the courage to come forward, it does not diminish the potential strength of your legal claim.
Contact our sexual abuse lawyers to set up your free consultation for a possible abuse lawsuit against the school that employed your abuser or allowed your victimization to happen. Let our law firm fight on your behalf.