Anyone who was the victim of sexual abuse at school can file civil lawsuit against the school and get compensation. If you are in Maryland, you can sue the school for failing to prevent the sexual abuse even for incidents that happened decades ago. Any form or level of unwanted sexual touching can form the basis for a sexual abuse lawsuit.
This post will look at sexual abuse lawsuits filed against schools. These school sex abuse lawsuits can be brought current or former students who were the victim of sexual abuse committed by a teach or another student at school. Successful plaintiffs can get significant financial compensation.
Who Can File a School Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?
Anyone who has been the victim of a sexual assault or sexual abuse at school can file a civil lawsuit against the school. The individual victim of the assault or abuse is the plaintiff. In some cases, the spouse of the victim can also be a plaintiff and bring a separate claim for loss of companionship (loss of consortium). If the abuse happened at school and was committed by a teacher or another student, the school can be held liable for negligently failing to protect the victim. Even if the sexual abuse was not committed by a teacher or student, the school can still be held liable if the abuse happened on school grounds.
What is Sexual Abuse or Assault?
Legally, sexual abuse or sexual assault is defined very broadly as any type or form of unwanted (non-consensual) sexual touching. This can include a very wide range of acts from touching someone’s private areas to forcible rape. There are 2 primary elements that must be present for something to be considered sexual abuse: (1) sexual intent, and (2) lack of consent.
The act must be done with sexual intent, which means sexual touching intentionally done for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal. Intent is the key here. If someone accidentally touches private parts in a crowded elevator there is no intent, and it is not sexual battery. The second element is lack of consent. Anyone under the age of 18 lacks the capacity to consent to sexual touching.
Schools Can Be Held Liable for Sexual Abuse
In any sexual abuse case, the victim can always sue the individual who committed the abuse. However, suing the abuser is often pointless because they usually don’t have money to cover any verdict or settlement. When the abuse happens at school, however, the victim can file a sex abuse lawsuit against the school. Schools have insurance and financial resources to pay for settlements or verdicts, which makes them much more viable defendants in a civil case.
Schools can be held liable for sexual abuse or assault under a number of negligence theories. If the abuse is committed by a teacher at the school, the school can be held liable for negligent hiring or retention of the teacher.
EXAMPLE: While Jane was a student at Acme Private School she was sexually abused by her school guidance counselor John. John worked at the school for 10 years and during that time, at least 2 previous complaints had been made about inappropriate conduct involving female students. The complaints were never fully investigated by the school, and John continued in his employment. Jane can bring a sexual abuse lawsuit against both John and Acme Private School.
If the abuse was committed by another student, the school can be held liable under theories of negligent security for failing to provide adequate protection. Negligent security theories can also be used to hold schools liable for sexual abuse or assault that happens on school grounds.
Do You Need to Pursue Criminal Charges Before Suing for Sexual Abuse?
Victims of sexual abuse or assault are not required to pursue criminal prosecution before bringing a civil lawsuit against the abuser. Victims can file a civil suit for sexual assault even if they never reported the assault or abuse to the police. There can be many reasons why a victim may choose not to report a sexual assault or not to cooperate with criminal charges against the abuser.
If the sexual assault is reported to the police and criminal charges are brought, the outcome of the criminal action against the abuser will also have no impact on the victim’s right to bring a civil lawsuit. Even if the abuser goes to trial on the sexual assault charges and gets acquitted, they can still be successfully sued in a civil case. Proving sexual assault or abuse in a civil lawsuit is much easier than proving it in a criminal case.
Is Sexual Abuse or Assault Easier to Prove in a Civil Lawsuit Compared to Criminal?
The burden of proof for a plaintiff in a sexual abuse/assault lawsuit is significantly lower than the burden of proof the prosecution faces in a criminal case for the same sexual misconduct. The well-known standard in criminal cases requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a very high standard of proof that can be very difficult to reach in sexual assault cases because there is often a “he said / she said” dispute about consent.
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Sex Abuse Lawsuit?
The statute of limitations for filing a sexual abuse lawsuit varies by state. Some states have short limitations periods of 2 years or less. Other states have longer limitations of 4 years or more. The applicable deadline for filing a sexual assault lawsuit will also depend on whether the victim is an adult or a minor (under 18) at the time of the assault or abuse.
Many states have recently passed new laws that significantly extend the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving childhood sexual abuse. A few states, including Maryland, have actually eliminated the statute of limitations entirely for child sex abuse civil lawsuits.
What Impacts the Settlement Value of School Sex Abuse Lawsuits?
The settlement value of school sex abuse lawsuits is driven by various factors. These factors help determine the appropriate settlement amount and the likelihood of reaching an agreement between the parties involved.
- Nature of the Abuse: The nature and type of sexual abuse in the case have a major impact on settlement value. Sex abuse of a child or sexual assault involving violence or force is going to be worth more compared to abuse that involves an adult victim where consent is contested.
- Strength of Evidence: Cases in which the sex abuse allegations are well supported by strong, reliable external evidence such as medical records or witness testimony will have a higher settlement value because the plaintiff is more likely to win at trial.
- Liability Theory Against School: If you have a very strong negligence liability claim against the school your case will be worth more. For example, if the sexual abuse was committed by a teacher, on school property, and that teacher had prior incidents of misconduct that the school swept under the rug, you will have a very strong negligence case against the school which will drive up the settlement value.
- Who Your Lawyer Is: The experience, skill, and reputation of your sex abuse lawyer play a major role in the settlement value of your case.
School Sex Abuse Verdicts and Settlements
Below are summaries of verdicts and reported settlements in school sex abuse lawsuits in which the school was held liable for sexual abuse.
$100,000,000 Settlement (West Virginia 2023): Former students alleged severe mistreatment at a private boarding school, leading to numerous civil lawsuits. The complaints detailed various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, and emotional harm. Students were reportedly confined in small, windowless “quarantine rooms” without basic amenities, sometimes for prolonged periods. These rooms lacked plumbing, heating, or cooling, with the only light switch located outside, often leaving the children in darkness. While in these rooms, students were given a bucket as a toilet, with limited food like bread and fruit or rice and beans. The school faced accusations of hiding evidence by destroying documents and making modifications to the rooms. It was just one big cover-up of their inhumane treatment of these children. After a school abuse lawsuit and years of legal proceedings, a settlement amount of approximately $100 million was reached.
$950,000 Settlement (Illinois 2022): The plaintiff in this case was a girl who claimed that she was sexually molested by her kindergarten teacher at a public school in the Chicago suburbs. The lawsuit claimed that the school system was aware of at least 1 prior allegation of sexual misconduct against the teacher, but the school failed to investigate the claim and the teacher remained employed. The case eventually settled for $950,000.
$125,000 Settlement (New Jersey 2022): The plaintiff alleged that while she was a 14-year-old student at the defendant school district, she was subjected to repeated sexual assault by her high school teach. She filed suit against the school district for negligently failing to protect her from the abuse, although the school district claimed it had no knowledge of the teacher’s actions and the plaintiff admittedly never reported him. More on New Jersey Sex Abuse Lawsuits.
$2,000,000 Settlement (Washington 2021): The plaintiff in this lawsuit sued a public school district alleging that she was sexually abused over the course of 3 years during high school by her school band and music teacher. The lawsuit accused the school of negligence for failing to properly supervise the teacher and failing to protect her from the sexual abuse.
$2.500,000 Settlement (Illinois 2021): Lawsuit was brought by a former student against a school system. The plaintiff claimed that she was sexually abused by her 3rd grade teacher and that the school system was negligent in hiring the teacher without a property background check and for failing to implement policies that could have prevent the abuse from occurring.
$200,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2017): The plaintiff sued her former high school in Pennridge School District alleging that she sexually abused on 15 separate occasions by the district’s basketball team coach. Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Contact Us About School Sex Abuse Lawsuits
If you are thinking about bringing a sexual abuse lawsuit against a school, contact our sex abuse lawyers today for free consultation. Contact us online or call us at 800-553-8082.