South Carolina Sex Abuse Lawsuits

This post will look at sex abuse and assault lawsuits in South Carolina. We will look at some of the key points of law regarding sex abuse lawsuits in South Carolina, including the statute of limitations. We will also examine the potential settlement value of South Carolina sexual abuse lawsuits.

South Carolina Sex Abuse Lawsuit Updates

The law on sex abuse lawsuits is always evolving.  So let’s begin with recent updates on sexual abuse and assault claims in South Carolina:

May 29, 2024: A new sexual assault lawsuit was filed in Horry County, South Carolina. A former employee of Bluegreen Vacations Unlimited, Inc. has filed a lawsuit alleging severe sexual harassment and assault by a supervisor.

The plaintiff’s suit contends that the harassment began with her supervisor making inappropriate sexual advances and comments, including whispering suggestive remarks about his wife not having sex with him, saying he needed her for “four minutes.” He regularly showed her explicit images. The situation escalated when the supervisor allegedly attempted to drag the plaintiff into a bedroom at a sales cabin, which caused her to scream for help and left her terrified.

She reported this to her supervisor. What was done? According to her lawsuit, nothing was done.  Her reports to management, including detailing her history of PTSD due to past sexual abuse, were allegedly dismissed, and no formal complaint was filed with Human Resources. Sexual predators often target women who have been abused before.

She was forced to continue working with the supervisor, which exacerbated her emotional distress and anxiety. The plaintiff contends that the company’s failure to act and the retaliatory assignment of shifts with the supervisor led to her constructive termination.

The case has been removed and will likely proceed in federal court.

May 13, 2024: Four lawsuits alleging sexual abuse within the competitive cheerleading industry have been dismissed from a federal court in South Carolina following a series of settlements that have redirected the litigation’s focus from major corporations to individual gyms and coaches.

Recent court documents released on Tuesday have cleared the South Carolina portion of extensive litigation targeting the cheerleading behemoth Rockstar Cheer & Dance and the U.S. All-Star Federation, one of the sport’s governing bodies. This development comes as the parties work to finalize the details of a settlement.

May 1, 2024: A trial is expected this fall in connection with two lawsuits filed against a public school district in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

These sex abuse lawsuits allege that sexual assaults occurred among second graders in a classroom at an elementary school within the district. According to the complaints, school administrators failed to address sexually suggestive behaviors among the students.

The lawsuits were filed in June 2022 by an attorney representing two guardians and the minors in their care. The claims center on allegations that two children were sexually assaulted by another child in the school’s computer lab.  Two days after the incident, one of the guardians emailed the school’s principal and a teacher to report the assaults, but the response was insufficient to address the severity of the situation.

As the school year continued, further incidents of inappropriate behavior were reported, including an episode where the accused child made sexually suggestive gestures with a pencil. Discussions with the school principal following these reports yielded promises of action; however, the problematic behavior persisted under the watch of substitute teachers. As a result, one of the guardians, following advice from a pediatrician, eventually withdrew their child from the school in favor of at-home learning.

March 1, 2024: Three federal lawsuits are currently active in South Carolina, spotlighting the distressing issue of invasive genital exams being conducted on children during abuse investigations, often without allegations of sexual abuse.

One plaintiff, a 14-year-old girl referred to as “Jane Doe,” was subjected to a forensic medical exam that included photographing and touching her genital area, despite her case involving physical, not sexual, abuse by her mother. This procedure left her feeling legally and physically violated, a sentiment exacerbated by the lack of any prior sexual abuse allegations.

The lawsuits argue that these forensic exams are not only traumatizing but are often conducted without proper consent, turning the children into mere pieces of evidence in abuse investigations. The overarching concern is that these practices, while intended to protect, might instead inflict additional trauma on already vulnerable children, raising significant ethical and legal questions about the balance between investigative thoroughness and the protection of child welfare.

February 25, 2024: A new lawsuit was filed in federal court against the South Carolina Department of Social Services, alleging that it forced children to undergo unnecessary and traumatic genital exams during sexual abuse investigations.

September 8, 2023:  A lawsuit filed by the parents of a teenager with special needs alleges that their son was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an employee at Whetstone Academy, a small private boarding school in South Carolina, between October 2018 and January 2020. The lawsuit claims that the abuse began when their son was just 14 years old. It accuses Singleton Investment Properties, the school’s parent company, of negligence and failure to protect the teenager adequately. Although the company denies these allegations, the parents have reached a confidential settlement concerning a previous lawsuit against the school but are now seeking broader changes and accountability through further legal action.

The Does, the anonymous pseudonyms for the parents, emphasize their desire not only for financial compensation but also for systemic changes and better regulation of therapeutic boarding schools like Whetstone. Their attorney, Tyler Bailey, advocates for these schools to be regulated like state-licensed daycare centers, with transparent complaint processes. Meanwhile, John Singleton Jr., owner of the school, maintains that the school prioritizes student safety and proper staff training. Despite these assurances, the teenager’s parents are skeptical about the efficacy of local law enforcement in the small community, choosing not to file a report there due to a lack of trust in a thorough investigation.

August 10, 2023: A former Catholic priest in Charleston, Jaime Adolfo Gonzalez-Farias, known as Father Gonzalez, pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child. Father Gonzalez admitted in federal court that he took an 11-year-old boy across state lines with the intent of engaging in a sexual relationship with him. Father Gonzalez served in various roles at the Charleston Diocese from 2015 to 2020.

What Is Sexual Abuse Under South Carolina Law?

The legal definition of sexual abuse or sexual assault in South Carolina is mostly the same as in other states. Under South Carolina law, any form of unwanted and intentional sexual touching or contact can qualify as sex abuse. The contact or touching is considered “sexual” when it involves a person’s intimate body parts and is done for the purpose of gratification.

This definition is obviously very broad, and it can theoretically include anything from groping to forcible rape. The two key elements that must be present to meet the definition of sexual abuse are (1) physical touching and (2) lack of consent.

The first element of sexual abuse is physical touching. To constitute sexual abuse or assault, there must be actual physical contact of a sexual nature. Verbal sexual harassment is not enough.

The second element of sexual abuse or assault is the absence of consent. Lack of consent is the key element that defines all categories of sexual assault. If the sexual touching is not consensual, it is automatically abuse or assault. Minors (anyone under the age of 18) lack the legal capacity to give consent, which means any sexual touching by an adult with a minor is necessarily considered sexual abuse.

Third-Party Liability in South Carolina Sex Abuse Cases

The most obvious defendant in a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse is the person who actually committed the abuse. But going after the abuser may only have symbolic value because, in 99% of cases, the abuser won’t have money to pay any verdict or settlement. The only exception to this is if the abuser is someone who is very wealthy.

The most effective way to get real money in a civil lawsuit for sex abuse or assault is to sue a third party for negligence in connection with the abuse. Common examples of third-party liability cases include:

  • School Sex Abuse Lawsuits: Schools must protect students from sexual abuse by teachers, staff, and other students. If a student gets sexually abused by a teacher or school employee, the school will almost always have some liability.
  • Hazing Abuse Lawsuits: Sometimes, sexual abuse can occur in the context of hazing rituals. Victims of this type of sexual abuse can sue the college and/or the sorority or fraternity.
  • Church Sex Abuse Lawsuits: These are probably the most familiar type of third-party sex abuse lawsuits. If the church negligently failed to deal with a suspected child molester in their ranks, they can be liable in a sex abuse lawsuit.

Negligent Supervision in Sex Abuse Lawsuits

An employer may be held directly liable for negligent supervision if certain conditions are met: (1) the employee intentionally inflicts harm while on the employer’s property, on property the employee can enter only in their employment capacity, or while using the employer’s property; (2) the employer is aware or should be aware that they can exert control over the employee; and (3) the employer is aware or should be aware of the need and opportunity to exercise this control.

This principle was applied in one South Carolina sex abuse lawsuit case where an employer was found liable for negligent supervision after an employee committed a sexual assault on a minor, and there was evidence that the employer had prior knowledge of the employee’s inappropriate sexual conduct with another minor. In such cases, the employer’s liability is direct and not merely derivative of the employee’s actions.

Duty to Report Risk of Sex Abuse

Under South Carolina law, there is no obligation to control someone else’s behavior or alert a third party or potential victim to potential dangers. South Carolina courts acknowledge five exceptions where such duties may exist: (1) when there exists a special relationship between the defendant and the victim; (2) when there exists a special relationship between the defendant and the person causing harm; (3) when the defendant has voluntarily assumed a responsibility; (4) when the defendant has created a risk, whether negligently or intentionally; and (5) when a specific law assigns a duty to the defendant.

In school and clergy abuse lawsuits, that first prong is easily met because clearly, if a school or a church has a custodial relationship with victims, there is a duty to protect those individuals from harm. This could include situations where an employee of the organization is the sex abuse perpetrator. The key factor is whether the defendant knew or should have known of the threat and failed to act to mitigate it, thereby potentially making them liable in cases of sexual abuse. This underscores the importance of institutions and organizations in positions of authority or trust implementing robust safeguarding policies to protect those under their care from sexual abuse.

Some defendants have tried to invoke the charitable immunity doctrine in these cases, but South Carolina judges have not favored that approach.

Filing Sex Abuse Lawsuits in South Carolina

South Carolina sex abuse victims to file civil lawsuits and seek financial compensation. The right to bring a civil lawsuit is not contingent on whether the victim pressed criminal charges. Abuse victims can file a civil suit regardless of whether they reported the abuse to the police when it happened. It also doesn’t matter whether the abuser was convicted.

Victims can bring civil lawsuits for sexual abuse as long as they are presently willing to testify under oath about the facts of the alleged sexual abuse or assault. Other forms of evidence, such as medical records or fact testimony from other witnesses, can also support the victim’s testimony.

If you file a sexual abuse lawsuit in South Carolina, the case will be public record. However, you may be able to keep your name and identity confidential. South Carolina’s court rules allow victims to keep their names confidential and use “Jane Doe” or initials in the court filings.

Statute of Limitations on South Carolina Sex Abuse Lawsuits

South Carolina has a relatively restrictive statute of limitations for child sex abuse civil claims. If the victim is an adult when the sexual abuse occurred, they only have three years to file a lawsuit under South Carolina’s general statute of limitations for personal injuries. S.C. Code Ann. §§ 15-3-530(5)

If the victim was a minor (under age 18) when the sexual abuse or assault occurred, they have until their 27th birthday to file a civil sex abuse lawsuit. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-555. South Carolina’s SOL in sex abuse cases can be extended under the “discovery rule” that tolls the SOL by giving a victim three years to bring a claim after they “knew or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known that he had a cause of action.”

South Carolina Sex Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

Below are example South Carolina sex abuse settlement amounts and jury payouts:

  • $75,000 Settlement: A 17-year-old alleged that another minor sexually molested her at the school where they were both students. The plaintiff contended that the school was negligent and failed to properly supervise the students to ensure their safety. The school denied liability and disputed the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries but eventually agreed to settle.
  • $50,000 Settlement: The plaintiff, a 15-year-old girl, alleged that she was taken to a motel and sexually assaulted after she went to a nightclub and was served alcohol. She sued both the nightclub and the motel. She alleged that the club served alcoholic beverages to a minor, negligently provided her with an incorrect stamp that indicated she was 18 years old, continued to serve her when she was visibly intoxicated, and failed to provide a safe environment for its patrons.
  • $240,000 Settlement: A 16-year-old female handicapped student was raped by an 18-year-old male student when the defendant school’s bus driver left the two of them alone. The plaintiff contended that the 18-year-old male had a known history of sexually molesting female students in wheelchairs and that the defendant was negligent in failing to provide adequate supervision.
  • $30,000,000 Verdict: The defendant, her stepfather raped and molested repeatedly from the age of 7-years-old to 15-years-old The female plaintiff. As a result, she suffered psychosis-like symptoms, such as hearing voices. She is also very distrustful of adults and her peers. No indication was given whether the stepfather had money to pay for this verdict.
  • $35,000 Settlement: A 17-year-old male alleged that he suffered emotional distress when he was sexually assaulted at the defendant’s hotel, where he was a guest. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to provide adequate security personnel to ensure customer safety.
  • $105,000,000 Verdict: The male victim in this case was sexually molested by a teacher at his private school. The abuse began when he was nine years old and lasted for a long time. The lawsuit against the school alleged that it negligently failed to protect its students from the abuse.
  • $125,000 Settlement: A 5-year-old boy was sexually assaulted in a taxicab by the cab driver as he was transporting the boy to his home. The plaintiff contended that the cab company failed to hire, train, and supervise its employees, conduct background searches on prospective drivers, and use due care for the safety of its customers.

Contact Us About South Carolina Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in South Carolina, contact us today at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.

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