Paul W. Ralph
Rights of Sexual Abuse Victims
All too often, we hear about young and even adult victims of sexual abuse who were abused by someone they trusted. Over the years, those perpetrators have included priests, caregivers, dance instructors, and just about everything in between. In fact, just in this week's news, an Orange County dance instructor has been accused of sexually abusing a teen student, and a licensed practical nurse has been charged in Phoenix with raping a disabled patient. In both of those cases, someone in a position of trust reportedly took advantage of a vulnerable victim. Aside from any criminal responsibility on the part of the abuser, compensation to such victims usually turns on whether a civil injury claim can be successfully prosecuted.
What it Takes to Prove a Sexual Abuse Case
In general, before a business and/or their insurance carrier can be held accountable for the damages sustained by a sexual abuse victim, there must be evidence presented that the business knew or reasonably should have known of the abuser's dangerous propensity. What this usually requires is evidence that the business knew or reasonably should have known of the potential for the abuse to occur. If the perpetrator had a history of similar misconduct (at the same or even a prior job), that evidence might go a long way to establishing responsibility, especially if there is additional evidence that someone in a management position knew about that history. Beyond such proof, a sexual abuse claim against a business can sometimes be proven with evidence of the business' failure to supervise their employees, especially the abuser. For example, when the abuser is put in charge of a young child or a particularly vulnerable person without regular accountability, that may form the basis for a claim agianst the business.
Damages in Sexual Abuse Cases
In general, juries are not very sympathetic toward a business entity that employs a sexual predator and then fails to supervise them. In those situations, punitive damages may even be awarded against the business if they acted with a "conscious disregard" for the rights and safety of others. Beyond this, certain statutes in California prohibit sexual harassment in the context of a "business, service or professional relationship", and those same laws allow for additional damages, sometimes including attorney's fees.