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Legal Insights: Sexual Misconduct & Abuse: A Violation of Trust & the Law

June 8, 2022

June 8, 2022

By Michael V. Nakamura, Co-Chair

Medical Malpractice/Personal Injury Dept., Shulman Rogers

In three decades of practice, one of the most egregious areas of injury and pain that I have seen involve the victims of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse.

Our cases have involved defendants ranging from priests and pastors to psychiatrists and therapists, to teachers and school bus drivers to medical doctors. The entities responsible have included churches, school systems, hospitals and medical practices.

The unfortunate victims include children and adults, loyal parishioners and congregants, students and patients.

The common thread for all is that a line was crossed, a boundary violation not only of behavior and conduct, but a violation of a sacred trust – whether religious, medical or professional. As a result, the victims often suffer traumatic injuries and emotional scars that are very real but invisible, life-altering and long-lasting.

With regard to the individuals who commit these abusive acts, that person is in a superior position of power and status in some way over the victim.  The victim is vulnerable, by either age, experience or emotional, mental or physical condition. This results in a relationship of trust that often obscures the horrible reality of what the perpetrator is doing to the victim. The victims naturally trust their religious, educational and medical superiors. Moreover, the current event is usually not the perpetrator’s first time committing sexual abuse, so there is a grooming and other strategy employed by the perpetrator.

With regard to the entities that are responsible for these individuals, this responsibility is measured by their level of knowledge or “notice”

  • What did the organization know or should have known about the abuser?
  • What policies and procedures does the organization have in place to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual abuse?
  • How diligently are these policies followed, updated and enforced?
  • Were there prior complaints or incidents, or other red flags regarding the abuser ignored by the organization?
  • Was there an affirmative effort to conceal the abuse and the perpetrator’s conduct?

From the legal side, there are issues of civil liability and insurance coverage.  There is an interplay with the criminal justice system, the police, detectives and the prosecutor’s office. Deep investigation is often necessary to determine the full extent of both the individual perpetrator and entity’s conduct.  Often there are witnesses in and outside an organization with specific knowledge of the abuser and/or the organization. Appropriate experts must be hired and consulted on both liability and damages.  There are legal deadlines, called statutes of limitations, and depending on the jurisdiction, there may be extensions of time for past abuse involving minors.       

This is a general overview, but there are many other relevant factors to these cases, including compliance with codes, ordinances and regulations, as well as the location and jurisdiction.

If you have a matter to discuss, please contact Mike directly at 301-230-5255 or mnakamura@shulmanrogers.com for a free consultation.