As parents, we place a lot of trust in our schools to provide supervision in our stead. Child abusers are naturally attracted to positions of trust and power where they have access to minors, like in the classroom. Many of these abusers should trigger red flags warnings—but don’t. All too often, educators fail to follow protocol—and even turn a blind eye to abuse that is happening beneath their noses—because they don’t want to believe that these horrors could take place in their school.
If sexual abuse has personally affected your family, the sting of betrayal may have you wondering how to sue a school district in California. A civil lawsuit cannot undo the pain your family has suffered, but it can help change the system that enables sexual predators on our state campuses and protect more innocent students from future abuse.
In this article, we’ll talk about who can be sued for child sex abuse in schools, what documentation you’ll need, and the steps to take to file a complaint and a lawsuit.
Who is Liable for Sexual Abuse at School?
Beyond the obvious perpetrator of the abuse, the civil justice system allows for multiple parties to be prosecuted when sexual abuse occurs at school. Suing the school itself is often a more effective strategy to recover damages, as they have insurance and more funding available to pay than an individual. It is also important we hold institutions enabling abuse accountable to remedy the hazardous environment being created and prevent future harm from befalling other students.
As an example of what this shared blame looks like, a teacher’s aide at Prairie Elementary School in Southern Sacramento was arrested in September 2016 on seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts. Upon investigation, it was found that there were many ways the school was liable for violating standard protocol.
- Though the aide was uncertified and not legally allowed to be alone with the children, there were multiple occasions where he was unsupervised.
- A yard supervisor failed to file a report after students came to him with their complaints.
- The school quietly put the aide on paid administrative leave after his arrest, but failed to tell parents for two months.
In their lawsuit, parents held multiple parties liable, including the teacher’s aide himself, the Elk Grove Unified School District, the principal, the vice principal, the teacher of the classroom where the abuse occurred, and the after-school program supervisor.
How To Sue A School District in California
#1 Get help.
Suing a school district in California is full of complexities, but with the help of an attorney, you can draw up the most effective lawsuit against the school district.
#2 Tell your story.
The initial phase of exploring your civil claim will necessarily involve telling your story to your attorney. Working with an attorney that has experience communicating with young children and victims of sexual abuse should make these difficult conversations much easier.
#3 Identify legal grounds to sue.
Crafting a strong legal argument for liability and identifying the right legal “causes of action” in these cases are crucial to success. Many different California and federal laws protect students from sexual abuse and harassment, including Title IX, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, the state Education Code 220, and common law claims like fraud and negligence—to name a few. Thankfully, California has always been a leader in protecting victims’ rights.
#4 Identify liability.
In sexual abuse cases, you can seek compensation for personal injuries caused by a school employee, sexual misconduct, failure to protect a child, and failure to report abuse. School districts may be charged for negligent hiring, negligent retention, or negligent supervision—among other claims.
#5 Submit paperwork.
Once you and your attorney have identified which legal issues are at stake, you can prepare your complaint by filing paperwork with the proper court and compiling evidence to build your case. Notice of pending litigation will be served to the school district, and the district must submit a timely written response.
#6 Corroborate your story with discovery.
During the discovery process, attorneys will uncover facts to support your claims by using the “tools of discovery,” which include written requests for documents and interviews under oath with witnesses, teachers, administrators, students, and parents of other children at the school. Your attorney will determine whether expert testimony is required to strengthen the case.
#7 Await a decision.
Once a legal complaint has been filed, those being sued will often try to have the case dismissed by filing legal challenges with the judge. If your case survives these challenges, it will ultimately be up to jury to decide whether there is liability and how much money will compensate you for the harm you have suffered. Also, it is critical to keep in mind that at any time during the life cycle of a case—from before the complaint is even filed to the middle of a jury trial—the parties can come to an agreement to settle the case.
Suing a School District in California
Parents entrust teachers and school districts with the safety of their children. When this trust is violated, the ramifications can have devastating effects for the abused that last a lifetime.
No individual or school district is too big to sue in court. Filing a civil suit is not “just about the money.” It’s a necessary step in holding third parties accountable for turning a blind eye to safety hazards in their midst. It’s about forcing a change in school policies to prevent sexual misconduct by school employees in the future.
Lewis & Llewellyn has assisted plaintiffs in suing both public and private institutions in California. School districts may try to defer blame or shield themselves from liability by seeking refuge behind various“immunity” laws, but our multi-million-dollar track record is a testament to our commitment to achieving justice for our clients. If your child has been sexually abused at school, contact us or call +1 (415) 800-0590 for a free, no-cost evaluation of your case.
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.