When seeking litigation, having to revisit sexual abuse that occurred during college can evoke a wave of emotions. Whether or not it is worth suing a university for sexual assault, even years later, is a factor that each survivor of sexual abuse must determine on their own.
If you are considering taking civil litigation against a university, this article will provide you with information regarding the legal grounds for suing a university, school immunity, who can be held responsible, and what to expect during the litigation process.
Is It Too Late to Sue a University for Sexual Assault?
Even if years have gone by since the sexual abuse occurred, you may still be able to pursue litigation, depending on the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a deadline for pressing criminal charges or filing a civil lawsuit seeking compensation. It’s important to keep in mind that criminal and civil proceedings are treated differently by law and different timelines apply. California’s SB 813 outlines the statute of limitations for pressing criminal charges against a sexual abuser.
Currently, the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit depends upon your age and when the abuse occurred.
- Are you 26 years old or younger?
Section 340.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure sets the legal deadline for filing civil charges of child sex abuse to “within 8 years of the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority (age 26) or within 3 years of the date the plaintiff discovers that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by sexual abuse, whichever occurs later.”
- Did you only discover the injuries you suffered were a result of wrongful sexual abuse within the last three years?
Section 340.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure also provides for a delayed discovery period of three years. This means that your lawsuit will be timely if it is filed within three years after the date the victim discovers the connection between the injury they have suffered and the abuse itself.
Even if you think your statute of limitations has expired, a skilled legal team can often find loopholes or exceptions to the general rule that will enable your case to be settled or heard by a jury.
By Law, Sexual Abuse Interferes With Education
Most sexual abuse cases fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits “sexual discrimination” at any institution receiving federal funds—which means most public universities in the United States. The idea is that sexual violence impedes an individual’s fundamental right to education. School administrators and personnel have a legal duty to protect students from sexual abuse, whether it be by staff members, coaches, organizational leadership, or other students on campus.
Under Title IX, schools must:
- Conduct a prompt investigation into any reports of sexual assault or abuse
- Provide survivors with the option to notify law enforcement authorities if desired
- Share allegations of sexual abuse made to faculty members with the Title IX Coordinator
- Take prompt and appropriate policy steps to protect the victim and prevent future sexual abuse
When it can be proven the school knew or should have reasonably known about a harm or injury to a student, they may be deemed as negligent in their duty to provide the standard of care, as described in Title IX.
Over the years, Supreme Court cases have further defined a university’s role in preventing sexual predation. In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992), the Supreme Court ruled that monetary damages could be awarded to individual victims of sexual harassment under Title IX and that school districts were financially liable for coaches who sexually abused student-athletes. In Davis vs. Monroe County Board of Education (1996), the Supreme Court found that school boards can be liable for student-on-student sexual abuse when the school’s knowledge of the incident is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively deprives the student of access to education.”
Government Immunity and California Universities
In cases involving public schools, government immunity can come into play. Government immunity prevents citizens from engaging in costly litigation against government entities. However, in 1963, the California Legislature recognized the need for reform and passed the California Claims Act (CCA). The CCA was intended to provide public entities with sufficient information to investigate a claim, facilitate settlement, enable the public entity to engage in fiscal planning, and discover ways to avoid similar liability in the future.
Government immunity does not protect public schools where gross negligence is at play. Gross negligence is defined as “carelessness to the point of consciously violating another person’s safety.” In some cases, public schools may be sued for negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent supervision, and failure to report sexual abuse.
When it comes to sexual abuse that occurred at a private college or university, Title IX often cannot be used, as these institutions don’t receive federal funding from the United States government, which therefore has no jurisdiction over how they conduct business. This is not to say that private institutions are above the law. If you suffered sexual abuse at one of California’s private institutions, you can still pursue claims under grounds such as:
- Breach of contract
- Statutory civil sexual harassment
- Negligent supervision, hiring, and retention
A California attorney with experience in sexual abuse civil litigation knows how to handle these types of cases. Fortunately, the courts in California are some of the most progressive in the nation on the topic of campus sexual abuse.
The Process of Suing a University for Sexual Abuse Years Later
Your journey through the litigation process will likely begin with a confidential consultation with a civil firm. During this time, the statute of limitations for your case will be calculated. The cost of an initial consultation with an attorney varies from firm to firm. A reputable law firm will not charge you upfront for this expense, but may bill you later if they secure compensation on your behalf.
There are seven stages of working with a civil attorney for a sexual abuse case in California; they include:
- Case Evaluation
- Early Investigation
- Initiating Negotiations
- Filing a Legal Complaint
- Pre-trial Resolution
Most civil lawsuits against universities cast as broad a net as possible. The abuser, the university itself, and anyone who knew of the sexual abuse, but failed to act can be implicated in a lawsuit.
Work With an Experienced Attorney
If you’ve decided to pursue litigation against a university, an experienced legal representative can act as your advocate, providing counsel and empowering control over the course of the proceedings.
Working with a California attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases is about more than legal advice and paperwork. Lawyers can also point you in the right direction for seeking medical attention, connecting with crisis social workers and counselors, dealing with insurance issues, and getting your life back in the wake of disturbing events that were beyond your control.
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.