Suing a school in California has its own set of complexities, but choosing the right attorney shouldn’t be one of them. When choosing an attorney for your case, you not only want someone who is experienced and understands the laws, but someone who is also compassionate to your suffering and prepared to take your case to court if necessary.
The right attorney will consider your recovery while simultaneously advancing your civil claims in the strongest manner possible. That attorney’s law firm will have the necessary personnel and upfront resources to go up against dismissive defendants looking to maintain a certain reputation and shirk all responsibility for what happened to you or your child. Your success hinges on choosing the right attorney, knowing who and when to sue, collecting compelling evidence, and presenting that evidence in a convincing manner to the judge and jury.
In this article, we’ll explain what kind of attorney you need to sue a school in California, the difference between criminal and civil litigation, and how government immunity could affect your case.
What Kind of Attorney Do I Need to Sue a School for Sexual Abuse?
There are critical differences between criminal litigation and civil litigation. Criminal litigation, headed by a state District Attorney, focuses on punishing individual wrongdoers for breaking the law—in essence, “crimes against the state”—with sexual abuse survivors acting as witnesses to a crime. The case may wrap up early through a plea bargain or may go all the way to trial, resulting in possible jail time for the offender, criminal fines, and the offender’s inclusion in a sex offender database. In order to obtain a guilty verdict, the District Attorney must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused committed the crime.
Civil litigation, headed by a sexual abuse attorney of your choice, focuses on restitution for victims of crime, with sexual abuse survivors taking a leading role in the decision-making. Though you receive experienced counsel every step of the way, it is ultimately the plaintiff, not the leading attorney, who decides whether to go ahead with the lawsuit and whether to accept an offer to settle the case. Cases may settle early or may go to trial, potentially resulting in thousands or millions of dollars paid to the plaintiff in damages for emotional pain and suffering, medical bills, and time off work, among other things.
In a civil case, attorneys must demonstrate that it was 51% or more likely, based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” that the alleged abuser committed the crime and is liable for the plaintiff’s suffering. Compared to a criminal case, this is a relatively low threshold of evidence.
Can I Sue a Public School for Sex Abuse in California?
In addition to going after the perpetrator, you may also sue a number of third-party entities who allowed the abuse to take place—administrators, school districts, and school insurers, for example. But in cases involving public schools, government immunity can come into play. Government immunity prevents citizens from engaging in costly litigation against government entities.
As a taxpayer, you can understand why such legislation is necessary to prevent a constant barrage of lawsuits paid for by all the other Californians who aren’t named in the suits. However, in 1963, the California Legislature recognized the need for reform, as some acts are so heinous they require a thorough investigation, 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.
The downside to suing a public school is that the deadline for taking action is extremely short. As a plaintiff, you have up to six months from the incident to file a written claim against a public school receiving government funds. Thankfully, the California legislature recently provided an important exception to this requirement for claims related to childhood sexual abuse. Also, when it comes to late claims, California law does allow for exceptions to the rule. Late claims may be allowed due to “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” Exceptions are also permitted when the claimant is a minor or unable to file a timely claim due to physical or mental incapacity.
To file a lawsuit against a public school or district, your written claim must include the following:
- The claimant’s name, address, and address of correspondence
- The date, time, and location where the incident occurred
- The damage the abuse caused
- The names of any public employees causing or contributing to the harm suffered
- Whether the amount sought is less than or greater than $10,000
- If greater than $10,000, a breakdown of case damages is also requested
Once the claim has been received, the public entity may challenge you with any defects or omissions that prevent the claim from complying with CCA rules within 45 days. If your claim is rejected or ignored, preparations to file a civil lawsuit can commence.
Can I Sue a Private School for Sex Abuse in California?
If you attended or your child currently attends a private school, you may be worried about what rights you have. While it’s true that most of your rights are based on terms of enrollment, student handbooks, school policies, and codes of conduct, your right to sue stands strong in the face of grievous acts like sexual abuse. Government immunity does not extend to private schools unless they receive federal funding.
Regardless of whether your child attends a public or private institution, you would file your claim in much the same way, although you are subjected to a much more liberal timeline when suing a private institution. And the limit on this time period may be tolled (or paused) when the child is a minor, however, filing may be permitted at any age depending on when the offenses were committed and which law was in effect at the time.
Let’s Fight The Problem of Child Sex Abuse in Our Schools Together
Lewis & Llewellyn has been taking a stand against sexual abuse in schools for years. We have the experienced litigators, knowledge of the law, and the resources necessary to take on your case and win. We are no strangers to overcoming statute of limitation arguments and other commonly used defenses. While we cannot guarantee a particular outcome, we have won a substantial number of multi-million-dollar awards for our plaintiffs. Childhood sexual abuse litigation is a passion project for us. We are personally motivated to fight for those wounded and hold all guilty parties responsible.
If you are suing a school in California for sexual abuse, one of our experienced attorneys should represent your civil case. Together, we can force schools and school districts to awaken from their apathy and deal with predators in their midst. Together, we can take a brave step toward your family’s healing and put this unspeakable trauma behind you, knowing that justice has been served.
Lewis & Llewellyn has assisted plaintiffs in suing both public and private educational institutions in California and around the country. 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. The members of our firm are engaged advocates for social justice with ties to local outreach and survivor support groups.
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