Child Abuse on School, Daycare or Church Property
Most parents would protect their children with their lives, as they are the most previous people to us. They are also some of the most vulnerable. That’s why it takes a huge leap of faith to entrust your child to the care of others – be it a daycare, school district or religious organization. But parents do it every day because in the long run, these services are essential to helping your child grow into a healthy, productive adult.
But what if those facilities fail to keep a child safe? When there is child abuse on school, daycare or church property, the owners of that property can be held liable for damages.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale child injury lawyers know it is an uncomfortable truth to confront: There are those who don’t have our children’s best interests at heart. Worst, there are those who are reckless with their safety or who actually wish to do them harm.
In these instances, there may be several legal theories on which parents may assert liability and seek damages. These include:
- Negligent selection of employees
- Negligent retention of employees
- Negligent supervision of employees
- Vicarious liability of employees
- Negligent security
- Negligent failure to report abuse
- Negligently imposing or enforcing abuse policies
- Breach of fiduciary duty (obligation to act in the best interest of another party)
- Premises liability (failure to protect against a foreseeable third-party attack)
The exact legal approach will depend on the individual circumstances of your case.
In many cases, a civil lawsuit may run concurrent to a criminal trial, and may or may not involve the same defendants. The criminal justice system is concerned with penalizing the perpetrator(s) of the abuse. Your civil case will be about fighting for compensation to help your child and your family become whole again, to whatever extent that is possible.
Some of the damages that can be recovered in child abuse lawsuits are for:
- Assault/ battery
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Medical bills (past and future)
- Lost wages
Many courts have weighed cases of child abuse and neglect at schools, daycares and churches and applied a legal concept known as the “special relationship doctrine.” This pertains to the obligation of officials at these entities to protect students, parishioners and charges from harm. As a general matter, the state’s failure to protect an individual against private violence isn’t a violation of the due process of the constitution. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that as it relates to public schools, compulsory school attendance laws imposed a constitutional tort law duty to protect students, and that failure to do so may result in liability.
It’s important to bear in mind though that cases involving public schools may be challenging because they are likely to assert protection under sovereign immunity laws. F.S. 768.28 is Florida’s waiver of sovereign immunity in tort actions, which outlines the scenarios under which a state might waive its right to sovereign immunity.
Although attendance is not mandatory at daycare or religious entities, these facilities do accept some level of responsibility for the children’s protection when they accept them into their care. Breach of fiduciary duty asserts the entity had a responsibility to act in the best interest of the child, and yet failed to do so.
Some claims may involve an assertion of negligence per se. That is, the facility is liable because of a violation of law. Of course, child abuse is against the law, but as it pertains specifically to the entity, our injury lawyers would want to know:
- Did they conduct the required background checks?
- Were they abiding regulations on staff-to-child ratios?
- Did they fail to report abuse to proper authorities when they first learned about it?
When child abuse occurs on site at a school, daycare or church, one might also assert a claim for premises liability.
Generally, a property owner has a duty to protect those lawfully on site from an unreasonable risk of harm. Although we don’t normally assign third-party liability to the criminal wrongdoing of others, premises liability is the exception when the danger was foreseeable.
Foreseeability is the reasonable anticipation of the possible results of an action. It involves establishing proof that the defendant, as a person of ordinary intelligent and circumspection, should have reasonably foreseen that the negligent act (i.e., inadequate security, negligent supervision, failure to perform background checks, etc.) would put others in danger.
Some of the elements that may be weighed to consider foreseeability include:
- Whether any criminal conduct had previously occurred on or near the property.
- How recently and how often that conduct occurred.
- How similar the conduct was to the conduct on the property.
- What indications are there the landowner knew or should have known about these other occurrences.
If your child has been harmed by child abuse at school, church or a day care center, we can help you determine which legal avenue makes the most sense under the circumstances.
Call the injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm at (877) 277-3780 or locally in Broward at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.