When your son or daughter has been sexually abused by a teacher, you need to know your rights and what can be done about them.
Over the recent past, the law has made clear the rights and remedies available to child victims of abusive teachers, both under state negligence law and state and federal statutes. There have been successful claims under the following causes of action:
1. Claims of assault, battery, and other intentional torts (wrongs) under state tort law against the offending teacher.
2. A school district may be held liable for authorizing or ratifying the teacher’s conduct.
3. A potential cause of action against the school district and district administrators for negligence in hiring, retention, supervision, or training of teachers, and/or for the negligent supervision of a student.
4. State statutory prohibitions on sex discrimination, mandatory reporting requirement, or other school hiring or policy mandates which may also give rise to school district or administrator liability.
5. State laws against civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent failure to comply with the school’s own policies.
6. Claims under Title 18 of the U.S. Code and/or Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Like all negligence actions, a claim for school district negligence requires proving four elements: duty, breach of the duty, injury, and a causal connection between the breach of the duty and the injury.
It is generally accepted that school authorities have a common law duty to protect the safety of students. In addition, a duty may arise from statutes that mandate for the screening of teacher candidates of the continuing assessment of teacher qualifications, from either mandatory reporting statutes or from school policies regarding hiring, training or supervision.
Breach of duty requires proof that the district failed to take due care in the hiring, retention, training and or supervision of staff, or failed to adhere to statutory mandates or school policies regarding hiring or supervision of staff or failed to adequately supervise student-teacher contacts.Causation typically involves two aspects: (1) by showing a substantial factor relationship between the school district’s conduct and the victim’s injuries. (2) proving proximate causation normally measured by the foreseeability that the district’s conduct will lead to the victim’s injuries. In teacher abuse cases that is usually satisfied by proof that school authorities were aware or could have discovered by investigation that a teacher had a history of abusive, aberrant or suspicious conduct making molestation of a student foreseeable.
Proof of damages will normally require expert testimony to show mental or emotional injuries. Damages may include costs of medical treatment and psychotherapy, cost of special schooling or housing needed in consequence of the abuse, future disability and income loss, physical and mental pain and suffering.
School authorities may also be held liable when it can be proved that they authorized, condoned, or ratified a teacher’s conduct. Liability on this theory would require a showing that the district had actual knowledge of a teacher’s abuse or harrassment of a particular student but took no steps to remedy the problem.
Federal claims may also be considered under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code against a school district by proving that district policy or custom, amounting to intentional violation of, or deliberate indifference to, victims constitutional rights. Important in such claims is evidence of the school district’s supervisory or policy making administrators were aware of a risk-typically by evidencing a pattern of abuse- and by policy or custom deliberately ignored it.
Under Title IX a district may be liable in money damages for the sexual abuse or harassment of a student if it is shown that an authoritative decision maker had actual knowledge of the abuse and responded with deliberate indifference.
Monahan Law Practice has extensive experience with sexual assault case law. For a free consultation, contact Dan Monahan at 610-363-3888.