It is well-established that schools, daycare centers, camps and other similar institutions owe a duty of care to students and minors in their care. This includes the duty to properly supervise, protect against abuse during compulsory attendance periods, and to immediately report it if such abuse becomes known.
In cases where schools have failed in these duties, victims of sexual assault have grounds to pursue a civil tort – or injury lawsuit – against the school for compensation.
For many victims, it is not about the money, though many do require extensive therapy and treatment to regain emotional stability. It’s often more about holding the school or center accountable, and ensuring such failed oversight doesn’t harm other children.
The recent case of Doe v. Superior, before an appellate court in California, illustrates the issues. Although it’s an out-of-state case, many courts across the country have established the duty of care schools and like institutions owe to children, though the extent of that protection has been disputed.
In this case, the alleged abuse occurred at a church-run camp. Plaintiffs alleged the camp fraudulently concealed information from parents about a camp employee’s suspected molestation of their daughter during summer camp.
A trial court had granted a defense demurrer to these claims, and plaintiffs sought a prohibition directing the court to enter a new order allowing the claims to move forward. Appellate court granted the request, finding the facts support assertion that disclosure of suspected molestation by a camp worker was within the scope of duty the camp had to the minor and her parents.
According to court records, the camp was open to children in first through sixth grades. Brochures for the camp assured parents that summer staff were carefully selected and that their children would be safe. The employee in question worked at the camp between 2003 and 2009. He had also worked at a school run by the same church, but was fired in 2004 for “inappropriate” interactions with young girls. Still, he remained an employee of the camp.
Between the time he was terminated from the school and the time he was terminated at the camp, a number of purported inappropriate actions were noted by other staffers. One supervisor noted in 2006 the employee was seen stroking a girl’s hair while she sat on his lap. There were a number of other recorded incidents that included an inappropriate show of affection and allowing or encouraging young girls to sit on his lap.
Minor plaintiff in this case attended the camp at age 8. A lifeguard at the camp noted the minor sitting on employee’s lap in the pool and he was kissing her neck. He was then advised by lifeguards not to hold children on his lap, but there were still several other incidents noted in which this same minor was noted on his lap and laying on his stomach.
Lifeguards provided written statements to management, but an “investigation” revealed no evidence of inappropriate touching. Still, the employee was fired for not following the rules.
The camp never told police or the girl’s parents about what happened.
Her parents did not learn about the incident until six years later, when police launched an investigation into this employee for molestation of other children. Following an interview with the girl, police did not initially inform them the girl was a potential victim as opposed to a witness. That information didn’t come until almost two years after the first police interview.
Parents filed a personal injury lawsuit for sexual abuse against employee and the camp for assault and battery, negligence, negligence per se, negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional concealment, fraud or deceit and negligent concealment, fraud or deceit.
The camp countered that the complaint was time-barred by the statute of limitations and that the last two causes of action were defective because the camp owed no duty to inform parents of the incident.
Trial court ruled the statute of limitations was tolled based on the circumstances of the case, but sustained the demurrer to strike the last two claims for lack of duty. The camp said the camp had a special relationship with children to prevent harm, but that did not mean the camp had to disclose what happened to parents or police. California’s Sixth Appellate District disagreed, granting plaintiff’s request to reverse.
Thus, the lawsuit against the camp will be allowed to continue.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Doe v. Superior, May 29, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District
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