Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Assault of Intellectually Impaired
Sexual assault of the intellectually impaired in California is too common than it should be. Civil lawsuits provide one remedy for these tragedies. Californians who have intellectual disabilities are much more vulnerable than others. Unfortunately, this vulnerability makes them much likelier to be the victims of sexual assaults. These assaults may be perpetrated by the victims’ friends, caretakers or family members. When people are victims of sexual assault, they might want to consider filing lawsuits against the abusers even if the abusers are also being criminally prosecuted.Epidemic of Sexual Assaults Among Intellectually Disabled People
National Public Radio recently conducted an in-depth review of data from the Department of Justice in order to determine the extent of the problem of sexual assaults committed against intellectually disabled people. They found that people who have intellectual disabilities are seven times likelier to be the victims of sexual assaults than are others. They also found that many of the cases are not prosecuted, allowing the abusers to continue assaulting the victims and others. Part of the problem is that some people do not believe intellectually disabled people are telling the truth about being sexual assault victims.
People who have intellectual disabilities are often assaulted in their homes by people whom they know. They may be assaulted at any time of the day. Others are assaulted in institutional settings or at day programs. The perpetrators may include their caretakers, immediate or extended family members and other people who have intellectual disabilities. Predators may view intellectually disabled people as easy targets for abuse because they tend to be more compliant and trusting.
Sexual assault cases involving intellectually disabled victims may be more difficult for prosecutors to prove. Some of the victims are unable to speak well, and they may be likelier to change their stories when others coerce them to do so. These problems may lead prosecutors to avoid filing criminal charges in some cases. Criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before a perpetrator may be found guilty. This is a higher burden of proof than the burden that plaintiffs in civil cases have. In a civil sexual assault lawsuit, plaintiffs have the burden to prove that the defendants committed the offenses by a preponderance of the evidence. The lower burden of proof means that victims may be able to hold their abusers liable for the harms that they have suffered even if the perpetrators are not criminally prosecuted or are found not guilty in criminal cases.
There are several different potential grounds for liability in California for sexual assaults that are perpetrated on the intellectually disabled. In cases involving sex between dependent adults and others inside of a facility or under the care of a caregiver, the facility or caregiver may hold liability under a theory of negligent supervision. In order to prove negligent supervision, the plaintiff must prove that the facility hired the perpetrator, and the perpetrator was unfit to do the job for which he or she was hired. The plaintiff must also prove that the facility either knew or should have known that the perpetrator was unfit to do the job and that his or her unfitness placed others at particular risk. The plaintiff must then prove that the perpetrator committed the sexual assault against him or her, and the employer’s negligent supervision was a substantial factor. Victims may also be able to prove that an employer negligently retained or hired their abusers.
Employers may hold vicarious liability for the actions of their employees in some cases. However, there is a caveat to this principle under California law. In Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital , 12 Cal. 4th 294 (1995), the California Supreme Court held that vicarious liability will only apply if the intentional act of the worker was engendered by his or her employment. In that case, a woman who went to get an ultrasound after falling in a theater was sexually assaulted by an ultrasound technician. The court found that the hospital had not negligently retained, hired or supervised him and that his intentional conduct was not engendered by his job. Instead, his actions arose entirely from himself, so the court found that the hospital was not vicariously liable.Remedies
Plaintiffs who prevail in their civil sexual assault case are entitled to monetary compensation for their medical expenses. They may also recover compensation for their pain and suffering. In addition, as we have previously explained, dependent adults have several other civil remedies available to them. They may recover their attorneys’ fees and costs, and they may also recover punitive damages.Duty to Report
California also mandates that people who work in facilities with dependent adults have a duty to report abuse, neglect and suspected abuse or neglect, including sexual assaults. If staff members or the homes have failed to report the sexual assaults as required by law, they may be liable for their failure.Contact an Experienced Sexual Assault Lawyer in Los Angeles
If your loved one is intellectually disabled and has been the victim of a sexual assault, it is important for you to get legal advice. An experienced civil sexual assault lawyer in Los Angeles may help to hold the abuser accountable for his or her actions. Contact us today to schedule your appointment so that you might learn more about your rights.Sources
- The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About
- Sexual abuse and intellectual disability
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) - 426. Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention of Employee
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) - 3701. Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal - Essential Factual Elements
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) - 3722. Scope of Employment - Unauthorized Acts
- Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995)