Sexually Abused Student Can Sue School: Cal. Supreme Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California Supreme Court has opened the door for more lawsuits targeting teacher sex abuse. The court has unanimously reinstated a suit against the William S. Hart Union High School District, which has been accused of negligently hiring, retaining and supervising a counselor who sexually abused a 15-year-old student.

District lawyers pointed to a state law limiting the tort liability of public entities. They argued that it does not permit such lawsuits. The court disagreed, finding that a school district can be held liable for injuries caused by such negligence.

Liability for teacher sex abuse is the result of a special relationship that arises from "the mandatory character of school attendance and the comprehensive control over students exercised by school personnel." As such, the court ruled that school districts must take reasonable measures to protect students from foreseeable injuries, including those caused by third party negligence and misconduct.

More specifically, California school districts can be held liable for teacher sex abuse when administrators hired, retained or inadequately supervised an employee when they knew, or should have known, about that employee’s propensity towards misconduct.

This ruling is an important development in the state’s current battle against teacher sex abuse. The Los Angeles Unified School District has recently been plagued with abuse accusations and is now facing dozens of lawsuits claiming administrators did nothing to protect students. When combined with planned legislative changes, the court’s decision will hopefully put pressure on district officials to act differently and more quickly in the future.

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