Skip to main content

How to File a Civil Lawsuit for Emotional and Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

By November 27, 2018January 29th, 2020Blog
How to File a Civil Lawsuit for Emotional and Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports
This post was written before the passage of AB-218. For information regarding the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual assault/abuse, click here or contact our team of experienced representatives.


According to a review of child sexual abuse prevalence studies conducted by non-profit organization Darkness To Light, approximately one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, with a median age of nine. Sexual predators abuse positions of authority and trust in order to “groom” their victims. Most sexual abuse survivors suffer the abuse at the hands of someone they know, often a trusted adult such as a coach, teacher, or sports mentor.

What Is the Standard of Care in Youth Sports?

You may be wondering what the law says about who is responsible for child sexual abuse in sports—is it the coach, or can the entire organization be held responsible? New federal legislation protecting young victims from sexual abuse in sports was signed by President Trump in February 2018 to clarify what is expected of youth sports organizations in the United States. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 537) amends the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 and the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

This 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.”  

Who Can You Sue in a Civil Lawsuit Involving Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports?

Civil proceedings allow you to hold different entities responsible for the role they played in tolerating abuse:

  • The coach: Laws prohibit adults in positions of trust and authority from sexual harassment and abuse of young athletes in their care. The spectrum of behavior you may litigate as sexual abuse covers everything from sexual jokes, discussions of a sexual nature, and innuendo, to voyeurism, exhibitionism, and sharing pornographic material, to physical assault.

Sexual predators generally fall into two categories: grabbers or groomers. Grabbers seize a perceived opportunity to commit a sudden inappropriate action. However, most cases of sexual abuse in youth sports involve a slow strategy of grooming victims by finding a seemingly vulnerable child, involving the child in peer activities, increasing boundary invasions to desensitize the child to touch, spending alone time with the child, urging secrecy, and finally, making the child feel responsible for the sexual misconduct. Both types of predator can be penalized for these behaviors.        

  • The sports organization: Sports organizations may be charged with failing to recognize and report grooming behaviors to law enforcement, failing to formally address complaints, failing to take corrective action against known abusers, or failing to screen staff member backgrounds before hiring. According to one recreation insurance company, about 9% of applicants will be red-flagged with criminal histories uncovered by the background check, and another 5% of applicants can be disqualified based on commonly used criteria.

Responsible organizations should have a statement that defines and prohibits all forms of child abuse. They should have policies in place to reduce risk and procedures to investigate complaints.

  • The school district: School districts are liable for investigating complaints and taking steps to prevent child sex abuse. Recently, four students at a high school in La Palma sued their school district, accusing administrators of ignoring signs that two polo coaches were sexually abusing the girls they trained. The lawsuit further alleges the district and water polo officials concealed the abuse from the police and the victims’ parents.  

How Much Time Do I Have to File a Civil Lawsuit for Emotional and Physical Abuse in Youth Sports?

With ever-changing state legislation, your deadline for filing a civil lawsuit depends upon when the abuse occurred, among other things. According to Section 340.1 of the Civil Code, “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.”

While there are important exceptions, this generally means that a victim of childhood sexual abuse can file a civil lawsuit stemming from the abuse on or before the victim turns 26, or within three years of discovering the ramifications of the abuse, whichever is later.  

What Evidence Do You Need to Sue for Emotional and Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports?

In civil court, it must be proven that every element of the cause of action “more likely than not” occurred. These elements include the occurrence of abuse by the perpetrator, the harm caused to the Plaintiff, and the liability of all parties listed in the suit. Child sex abuse can be very difficult to prove, as there are often no third-party witnesses and no documented physical injuries. In such cases, child witness testimony (either in-court or out-of-court, taken in interviews and depositions) may be the only evidence.  

Other evidence that could potentially be used includes:

  • Eyewitness accounts of people who directly witnessed grooming or abuse
  • Accounts of individuals to whom the offender spoke to about the abuse
  • Accounts of other victims abused by the same Defendant
  • Police reports and information obtained from a parallel criminal investigation
  • Documented medical evidence, physical examination results, and rape kits
  • Expert witnesses like doctors, therapists, social workers, and psychologists

Obtain a Recovery With the Help of an Experienced Attorney

Parents entrust coaches and youth sports organizations with the safety of their children. When this trust is violated, the ramifications can have devastating effects for the abused that last a lifetime.

As parents of young children themselves, the attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn find the statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse to be profoundly upsetting. As lawyers, we are compelled to devote our professional expertise and resources to ending the epidemic of child sexual 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, which is why a leading legal publication, The Daily Journal, recently described our firm “a giant slayer.” 

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. 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.