Sexual predators typically abuse positions of authority and trust. In cases of sexual abuse that involve an athletic coach, victims are typically selected and groomed over a long period of time. Instances of sexual abuse by coaches often go unreported for years but that doesn’t mean survivors can’t seek litigation against the coach for sexually abusing them.
If you’re wondering “Can I sue my coach for sexually abusing me,” you will find the answer in this article, along with related questions that may arise in the process of seeking litigation.
What Are the Legal Duties of a Coach?
An athletic coach has a legal duty—also known as a standard of care—to protect young athletes in their care.
A coach’s duties consist of:
- Providing a safe sport environment
- Using total knowledge and skills of instruction and training
- Using safe and appropriate equipment
- Planning for short and long-term training programs
- Properly matching athletes in competitions based on size, skill, and power
- Sufficiently supervising athlete training and competition
- Warning athletes and parents of the risks involved in the sport
- Providing proper medical care, as necessary
- Taking steps to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination by other athletes or staff
- Reporting suspected or known child abuse to the proper authorities
The most recent legislation clarifies the standard of care for all youth sports organizations. According to the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, all adults authorized to interact with an amateur athlete must report immediately any allegation of child abuse of an amateur athlete who is a minor. Anyone who fails to do so is subject to penalty. The Act also states that the federal statute of limitations is “10 years from the discovery of harm,” rather than “10 years from the date of abuse.”
Can I Sue My Coach for Sexually Abusing Me?
Rarely are sexual predators in positions of authority “grabbers,” people who suddenly sexually assault a student-athlete. Instead, more often, a sexual predator in a position of authority, such as an athletic coach, follows a five-step grooming process. In this process:
- Special attention is paid to a particular child. Victims are often “elite” athletes, which allow the coach to justify paying extra attention to the child. Sometimes targets are children who are shy loners, depressed, or lack self-confidence.
- The child is involved in peer-like activities. Coaches may arrange group travel in a private vehicle, invite athletes on shopping trips, attend professional sporting matches with students, host dinner parties with the team, or share hotel rooms during out-of-area competitions. Informal peer-like behavior is typically introduced during this time.
- The child is desensitized to touch. Most of the legally actionable behavior falls under the inappropriate boundary invasions that begin in stage three. Tickling, rough-housing, and wrestling are common tactics that cross the bridge to more physical contact.
- Time alone is spent with the child leading up to the abuse. Where other teammates may have once been in their company, the student may find themselves suddenly alone with the coach. Favored athletes are often granted special privileges and urged to keep secrets.
- Discretion is advised as the coach attempts to make the child feel responsible for what happened. Coaches will try to make the child feel responsible for what happened. They may even threaten the child and make them feel that they will get into trouble if they try to tell someone what happened.
Regardless of whether the sexual abuse was verbal or physical, the coach is held legally responsible. And along with taking legal action against the coach, larger entities that may have played a role in allowing the sexual abuse to take place can also be held responsible.
Currently, the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit depends upon the Plaintiff’s age when the abuse occurred. According to Section 340.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, “In an action for recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse, the time for commencement of the action shall be within eight years of the date the Plaintiff attains the age of majority [age 18] or within three years of the date the Plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual abuse, whichever period expires later.”
Should I Contact the District Attorney or a Civil Attorney?
There are two types of legal recourse available to you, and they are not mutually exclusive. You may pursue both avenues if it suits your interests. If your desire is to put your coach behind bars for the crimes committed against you (and possibly others), then you will need to contact your local District Attorney. The DA will review your complaint and decide whether or not to press criminal charges. If criminal charges are pressed, the case will proceed as The State of California vs. the Defendant for the crime of sexual abuse committed. The end result could be jail time, probation, fines paid to the state, and inclusion on a sex offender registry. If the DA rejects your case, you can still file a lawsuit in civil court. In civil court, the judge and at least nine out of the 12 jury members must agree that it’s at least 51% likely the alleged crime was committed, as opposed to convincing all 12 jurors the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, as with a criminal case.
To file a lawsuit, you should contact a civil attorney. If successful, a civil lawsuit will result in monetary compensation paid to you for damages caused by the abuse—such as medical bills, therapy costs, loss of employment, and emotional pain and suffering. A win in criminal court can greatly assist your chances of winning in civil court, as the basis for liability has already been established. However, a loss in criminal court does not necessarily bar you from recovering damages as a result of the sexual abuse in civil court.
Let an Experienced Attorney Fight for You
Athletes entrust coaches and sports organizations with their safety. When this trust is violated, the ramifications can have devastating effects for the abused that last a lifetime.
The attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn find the statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse in youth sports to be profoundly upsetting. As lawyers, we are compelled to devote our professional expertise and resources to ending the epidemic of abuse. We seek to effect real change in the lives of those impacted by abuse, as well as society as a whole, by strategically bringing lawsuits that shine a spotlight on the individuals and entities that condone, cover up, or turn a blind eye to sexual abuse.
The civil attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn are passionate and experienced trial attorneys who have represented both adult and child victims of sexual abuse across the nation.
Recognized for our track record of multi-million-dollar settlements and awards, our passion lies in holding the worst type of predators accountable for their wrongs and helping survivors find a measure of dignity in the aftermath of trauma. If you are questioning whether or not you can sue your coach for sexual abuse, contact us or call +1 (415) 800-0590 for a free, confidential, no-obligation case review.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.