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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

Florida personal injury lawyers

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Can Employers Be Held Liable if an Employee Commits Sexual Assault?

As a crime that often carries long-lasting, life-altering repercussions for victims, sexual assault is sadly all too common. According to the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, approximately one in six women in Florida has or will be raped at some point in their lives, and one in five men have experienced sexual violence other than rape.

While sexual assaults and similar violent acts are crimes, victims may also be able to pursue a civil lawsuit against a third party in certain circumstances. For example, if the assault was committed by an employee of a business, school, or other organization, the employer could potentially be held liable. If applicable, a lawsuit against the employer may provide the victim with a greater chance of recovering damages to help compensate for their physical injuries, mental and emotional trauma, time off work, and other harms stemming from the abuse.

Negligent supervision and negligent hiring

In many cases, employers are held liable for the wrongful acts of their employees or agents through the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. However, this doctrine only applies to acts that occur within the course and scope of employment and generally do not extend to intentional acts. Therefore, sexual assault victims will likely need to consider alternative theories of employer liability, such as negligent supervision and negligent hiring. These claims may arise, for example, if the employer had failed to conduct adequate background checks or had not taken action after becoming aware of the perpetrator’s previous inappropriate conduct. There are also heightened standards of care where as part of their job employees are entering homes or have contact with children.

As with other negligence cases, victims pursuing a claim of negligent supervision or negligent hiring must demonstrate the following:

  • The defendant’s employer had a duty to the victim, such as the duty to maintain a safe environment for employees and customers of the business.
  • The defendant breached this duty, either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • The victim suffered damages (including the costs of treating physical injuries, counseling needed to address emotional trauma, etc.), and those damages would not have occurred if the defendant had not breached their duty.

Section 1983/Title IX claims

In addition to civil lawsuits, victims of sexual assault or abuse may have a claim under federal law if the perpetrator was a teacher, coach, or employee of a public school. Specifically, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 (the Civil Rights Act) or 20 U.S.C. Section 1681 – Title IX (sexual discrimination or harassment) may come into play if the school’s policies or procedures played a direct role in allowing the assault to occur and the school acted with deliberate indifference to the perpetrator’s actions. However, ordinary negligence is typically not usually sufficient to support a civil rights.  However, if a school district has been alerted to a problem with a teacher or student and has failed to take reasonable steps, a Title IX case may be successful.

For victims of sexual assault and other violent acts, the road to physical, emotional, and financial healing can be long and stressful. If a third party such as an employer could have helped prevent the act, pursuing a civil suit against them may help the victim secure an adequate recovery and potentially prevent similar incidents in the future.  Civil cases are one of the few ways that survivors of sexual abuse and assault can take control back of their lives.  The criminal justice systems treats them as witnesses, but a civil case puts them in the driver’s seat.

At Leighton Law, we are experts in the field of sexual assault litigation against third parties. As President of the National Crime Victim Bar Association and author of the leading textbook in the field, Attorney John Leighton has been representing sexual assault survivors for over 35 years and has the expertise needed to navigate the complexities of these sensitive cases. We have represented many survivors of sexual assault and abuse, both children and adults.  Our team is sensitive to the issues that face our clients after suffering such abuse.  Our goal is to empower survivors and help them take control back over their lives. Please call us today at 888.988.1774 to speak with our team.

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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