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Assessing Liability in Child Sexual Abuse Actions


Personal Injury

Any abuse against a child is disturbing—but sexual abuse against a child is particularly disturbing. In addition to the immediate emotional and physical injuries inflicted upon a child that was victimized by a sexual predator, the emotional scars that are left with the victim often remain for years, and for many, indefinitely. As personal injury attorneys, that represent the victims and family members of child sexual abuse, we wholeheartedly believe, that when such incidents occur, the persons or entities responsible for such abuse should be held liable to the fullest extent possible.

While initiating criminal charges against sexual predators is certainly a necessary starting point, often time remedial measures stop there. However, it is also important to consider the advantages of seeking liability via a civil action, to both victim and their family, as well the members of our society in general. First and foremost, civil actions can provide compensation to emotionally traumatized victims, many of whom require varying levels on immediate, ongoing, or intermittent treatment. In addition, civil actions extending from child sexual abuse actions, can also aide in the prevention of future incidents, thereby benefiting society as a whole.

A common question that clients have is what would be the benefit of pursuing civil damages against a sexual predator that is either financially incapable of providing compensation, incarcerated, or both. The answer to this inquiry is that the person or entity which a victim seeks damages against need not necessarily be the actual perpetrator of the sexual abuse. In fact, liability is rarely directed solely at the actual perpetrator in civil actions involving child sexual abuse. In many cases, the abuse may have occurred while the child was in the care, custody, or control of another, such as a daycare facility, school, summer camp or an organization associated with extracurricular activity, to name a few. Alternatively, the abuse may have occurred while the perpetrator was under the supervision and control of another person or entity, such as the State Department of Corrections, a probation services provider or a mental health facility.

In assessing the grounds that may support a particular cause of action for child sexual abuse, it is helpful to understand some of the most common theories of liability. The vast majority of child sexual abuse actions area grounded upon some theory of negligence, but can also involve claims of reckless or intentional misconduct, and in some cases even fraud for a breach of a duty arising from a fiduciary relationship.

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Direct liability and vicarious liability are two common theories of liability in child sexual abuse actions. Direct liability involve claims brought forth directly against the entity, organization, or property owner, for breaching a duty of care owed to the victim. Direct liability claims often involve issues such as negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent screening, negligent training, and negligent supervision. Common factors to consider in assessing liability in child sexual abuse matters, include foreseeability of harm, degree of certainty of harm to the victim, the closeness of connection between defendant’s conduct and harm suffered, and the prevention of future harm.

Vicarious liability involves claims brought against an individual or entity for the actions of its staff members, agents or employees, under the theory of ‘respondeat superior.’ Such claims will often hinge on whether the employee’s injurious or harmful conduct occurred during the scope of his or her employment. Vicarious liability claims often involve the same or similar issues that are associated with direct liability claims, and as such, it is not uncommon for child sexual abuse actions to involve multiple theories of liability in support of damage claims.

In some cases, there are multiple parties or entities against which damages can be sought. It is necessary to consider not only where the abuse took place, but more importantly the factual circumstances leading up to the abuse. Due to the complexities involved in assessing issues associated with liability in child sexual abuse actions, it is important to discuss the matter with an attorney experienced in this particular field of personal injury. The Gainesville Child Sexual Abuse Attorneys, of the Law Office of Alba & Yochim P.A., believe that the victimization of a child is a serious matter, and that those responsible for such harm, should be held liable through any and all means possible.