Monday, September 12, 2016

California May End Statute of Limitations for Rape Victims

Bill Cosby has infamously had a large number of women coming forward, publicly making accusations that they were raped by the star in the last few decades. Despite their reports, many were upset to learn that Cosby would not be prosecuted for the offenses against them because the criminal statute of limitations had expired. Mr. Cosby is facing a single criminal sexual assault case in Pennsylvania because it is the only one that fell within that state's deadlines for the filing of charges.

What is a statute of limitations?

A statute of limitations is a legal deadline beyond which date a case may not be filed. In California, the deadline for the criminal prosecution of sex assault cases is the same as that for other felony cases with the exception of murder and embezzlement. While those two crimes do not have statutes of limitations attached to them, felony sex assault cases in California must be filed within 10 years of the date of the assault. There are exceptions to this deadline for cases in which the sexual assault was later discovered, such as through new DNA evidence. 

The rationale for imposing a statute of limitations

Proponents of statutes of limitations argue that it is much more difficult to prosecute cases that are very old. They also argue that relaxing or eliminating statutes of limitations would allow people to come forward with false accusations built on little evidence. 

Why sex assault victims often do not come forward for lengthy periods

In many sex assault cases, the victims often do not come forward to report their abuse for years. Some feel like no one will believe them. Others feel shame or blame themselves for what happened to them. Still others may have repressed the memories of the abuse for it to only later resurface. A major problem with this is that when reports are not made, the police do not hold onto evidence because no evidence has been gathered because of the lack of reports.

California's proposed law

The outrage surrounding the inability of the women to seek justice against Cosby has led state legislators to propose a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for the prosecution of sex assault cases in California. The Justice for Victims Act, Senate Bill 813, has already passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown's signature. Gov. Brown has already vetoed two previous bills that would have eliminated the statute of limitations for rape cases, so it is unclear whether or not the bill will be signed into law. 

If the bill is signed into law, victims of sex assault could come forward and make their reports decades after the offense happened. Because of constitutional issues, the law would only apply to sex assaults that occur going forward because the retroactive application of a criminal statute of limitations is unconstitutional. This would allow victims to tell their stories even if the cases would be difficult to prove.

Civil statute of limitations

California also has a civil statute of limitations for sex assault cases filed under the state's civil code. Under Cal. Civil Code 340.1, people who were victims of childhood sexual abuse may file a civil lawsuit within 8 years of reaching age 18. For those who only later discover that the abuse occurred or that their psychological injuries resulted from childhood sex abuse, they may file civil lawsuits against the perpetrator within 3 years of the date of discovery. 

Contact an attorney

Whether California eliminates the criminal statute of limitations for sex assault cases or not, victims may be able to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators. By doing so, they may be able to hold their abusers accountable while also seeking the recovery of damages to compensate them for the wrongs perpetrated against them. Because the burden of proof that is required to prove civil cases is lower than that required to prove criminal allegations, victims may be able to recover damages through civil lawsuits even if the defendants are found not guilty in their corresponding criminal trials. If you have been the victim of a sex assault in California, contact a sexual assault and abuse victims' attorney about whether or not you have a valid case and when you should file. 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/09/07/california-may-soon-eliminate-the-statute-of-limitations-for-rape-charges/

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-allred-california-statute-of-limitations-law-20160902-snap-story.html

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=ccp&group=00001-01000&file=335-349.4

Monday, August 1, 2016

California Uber Passenger Sues After Rape by Driver

A lawsuit was filed on July 21 against Uber by a woman who was reportedly raped by her Uber driver. The incident, which occurred on July 21, 2014, demonstrates that ride share companies, such as Uber and Lyft, may face liability for the actions of their drivers in certain types of situations.

Factual background of the case

On July 21, 2014, the plaintiff called Uber for a ride to her boyfriend's home after she had spent a night out. After she was in the car, the driver offered her a bottle of water, a common practice for Uber drivers. She accepted, and that was reportedly the last thing she remembered before she woke up the next day. Instead of waking at her boyfriend's home, she instead awoke in her own bed with no memory of how she came to be there. She was also nude, and there was a used condom on her nightstand. The woman contacted law enforcement, who performed DNA testing on the semen contained in the condom, comparing it with the DNA of the Uber driver. It matched, and the man was arrested and charged with assault with the intent to commit rape and rape of a person who was unconscious. The man later pleaded guilty to criminal sexual battery and was sentenced to six months in jail. He is now required to register as a sex offender. In the woman's lawsuit, she is alleging that Uber was negligent in performing an inadequate background check on its driver.

California law and background checks

Under current California law, ride share services, including Uber and Lyft, are required to perform background checks on their drivers. The background checks are not as comprehensive or stringent as those required of taxi drivers, something that taxi drivers have been angry about. Taxi companies are required to perform fingerprint background checks, while ride-share companies are only required to go back 7 years without performing fingerprint searches. A new proposed law in California, AB 1289, would require background checks that are much more intensive than the 7-year required checks. The law would require ride-sharing services to perform comprehensive background checks, including checks with federal, state and local records. Checking federal records requires fingerprint checks, so while the proposed law doesn't specifically require fingerprints, the requirement for federal checks would necessitate them anyway.

Potential civil liability by the imposition of a duty of care on Uber

One caveat of the legal requirement for background checks in California is the possible imposition of a duty of care on the ride share companies to conduct thorough and comprehensive background checks on their drivers. This would mean that if the company's background check is inadequate, and the driver then rapes or assaults a passenger, the company may be held to be liable for its negligence in failing to complete its duty. In most cases, an employer or principal will not be held to be liable for criminal acts committed by its agents, unless the act was reasonably foreseeable. While criminal acts are generally not reasonably foreseeable, it could be argued that an action could be deemed as such if a comprehensive background check had been performed. For example, if a comprehensive background check would have revealed that a driver had the propensity to commit sex offenses, but the check that was performed did not show the prior offenses, then the ride-share company may be found to be liable because of its negligence in the performance of its duty of care.

Contact an attorney


If you or a loved one has been assaulted by an Uber or Lyft driver, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney to learn whether or not you have grounds for a civil lawsuit. An attorney may be able to review the facts and the law in order to make a legal determination about the winnability of your case. Contact a Los Angeles personal injury attorney to learn more about your rights.

  Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-uber-la-assault-20160721-snap-story.html http://www.laweekly.com/news/lawmaker-wants-uber-lyft-to-keep-pervs-from-driving-7028413

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pomona School District Found Liable for Teacher Abusing Child

As a recent case in Los Angeles County demonstrates, school districts may be found to be liable for the actions of one of their employees when the employees sexually abuse children attending the schools. School districts have a duty of care that they owe to students. When they fail to meet that duty and a child is then abused and suffers harm, the school district may be liable to pay damages in a resulting civil lawsuit. 

Factual background of the case

A 14-year-old girl who attended Lorbeer Middle School in the Pomona Unified School District was repeatedly sexually abused by her middle school history teacher. The abuses occurred in the man's locked classroom, on a trip to DisneyLand and off-campus in the man's home. Other teachers allegedly reported concerns about the teacher's behavior, including his writing numerous hall passes for the girl to be released from her other classrooms as well as being discovered alone with her in his locked classroom. Despite the reports, the school district did not do anything when the principal was informed of the different early warning signs of the sexual abuse. The teacher was later convicted of 17 felonies at his criminal trial, including several counts of having unlawful sexual intercourse with the girl. The girl filed a civil lawsuit against both the former teacher who abused her as well as against the school district for its negligence in her abuse.

Plaintiff's contentions

The plaintiff argued that the school district was negligent with its supervision of the teacher during the 2010 to 2011 school year, which was when the abuse occurred. The plaintiff claimed that she suffered from severe emotional distress as a result of the abuse and of the school's negligence.

Defendant's arguments

The school district argued that all of the assaults happened off of school grounds. It also argued about the nature and extent of the injuries to the plaintiff. Before trial, the defendant extended a $1 million settlement offer.

Jury verdict

On May 10, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff against the school and the teacher. The jury found that the school district was 80 percent liable, and the former teacher was 20 percent liable, returning a gross verdict amount of $8,050,000. Of that amount, $7 million was awarded for the plaintiff's past noneconomic damages, $1 million was awarded for her future noneconomic damages and $50,000 was awarded for her future medical expenses. 

Application of the law to the facts

In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a lawsuit against a school district for the abuse committed by one of its teachers, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the school either knew about or should reasonably have known about the abuse. In the girl's case, several teachers had complained about the former teacher repeatedly using hall passes to have the girl leave other teachers' classrooms. One teacher had caught the two together in the man's locked classroom and had told the man that he better stop whatever was going on. 

The principal also reportedly discovered the girl was missing from school one day and called the former teacher. The teacher had removed the girl from school that day to take her to his home, where he had sex with her. Upon receiving the phone call, he returned the girl to school. Despite all of these warning signs, the school did not do anything to the teacher, and although the principal reported the incident to the assistant superintendent, the school never engaged in a formal investigation.

Contact a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney


If you are a parent who suspects that your child is being abused or has been abused by a teacher or other adult at his or her school, it is important for you to get legal help. A Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney may analyze how the school responded and whether the officials either knew or should have known that the abuse was or had occurred. If your attorney determines that the school district acted negligently, he or she may agree to accept representation and then fight to help you to recover damages for all of the losses that you and your family have suffered. To learn about whether or not you have grounds to make a legal claim, contact a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney today (click here for more information).

Sources:


http://www.juryverdictalert.com/jury-verdicts/item/highlighted-verdicts/antonia-m-vs-pomona-unified-school-district

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-8-million-verdict-sex-abuse-teacher-20160511-story.html

Monday, June 20, 2016

Legal Definition of Rape May Be Expanded in California

Most people in the U.S. were shocked by the outcome of the infamous Stanford sexual assault case. The case has brought to the forefront questions about disparate sentencing for white people versus black people, about the legality of the sentence that was handed down and about whether the rape law of the state should be broadened to encompass more than sexual intercourse.

Factual background of the sexual assault case

A young woman attended a fraternity party with her sister at Stanford. She drank alcohol while at the party, and at some point in time, she left. Two young men from Sweden who were bicycling then witnessed Brock Turner, then an athlete at the university, sexually touching the woman who was unconscious while both were lying on the ground behind a dumpster. The men confronted Turner, who attempted to flee but was stopped and held by the Swedish men for the police. Turner was charged with sexual assault for penetrating the woman with his fingers and for inserting debris and pine needles into her vagina.

The sentence and backlash

Brock Turner was convicted at trial on multiple counts. Between all of the counts, Turner faced up to 14 years, and the prosecutor requested that the judge sentence him to six years. Instead, the judge sentenced Turner to 6 months in jail, substantially less than the statutory minimum of 2 years for a sexual assault. Public outrage following the sentence has been swift, with many people across the nation calling for the judge to be recalled. While the sentence may be shocking, it is not an illegal one. In California, judges are allowed to sentence defendants to less than the statutory minimums in downward departures. Many people have pointed to much harsher sentences handed down to black defendants who were charged with similar crimes, stating they believe that Turner received the light sentence he did because he is white. 

California's rape and sexual assault statutes and sentence ranges


Another major issue the case demonstrates is an issue with California's rape and sexual assault statutes. Rape is defined under California Penal Code 261-269. In order to qualify as a rape, an offense must involve sexual intercourse. Turner could not be charged with rape under the state law because he did not have sexual intercourse with his victim, but he instead penetrated her with debris and with his fingers.

Turner was charged with sexual battery, which is also known as sexual assault in the state. Under California Penal Code 243.4, a sexual battery may be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. In Turner's case, his crime was egregious enough to warrant felony charges.

A single sexual assault count carries a potential sentence ranging from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 4 years in prison. A rape charge, on the other hand, carries a potential sentence ranging from 3 to 8 years. Besides being upset about the judge's downward departure, many people are also questioning why Turner didn't face the potential for more prison time. The reason is because the definition of rape only includes sexual intercourse and is thus quite narrow.

How the legislature may react

It is possible that the legislature may react to public sentiment by broadening the definition of rape to include a penetration of any sort when the victim hasn't consented. If that broader definition had been in place when Turner was convicted, he could have faced substantially more time in prison. 

Importance of Seeking Legal Help After A Sexual Assault or Rape


If you or your loved one has been the victim of a rape or sexual assault, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. Even if the person is already facing criminal charges, the law recognizes that victims of such crimes deserve to be compensated. The state allows parallel prosecutions in both criminal and civil court for the same offense. Even if the rapist is successful in his or her criminal case, it is still possible for the victims to prevail in their civil case. This is because the standard of proof for civil cases is to prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence. By contrast, the burden placed on prosecutors in criminal matters is to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt, a far stricter standard. You may want to schedule a consultation with a personal injury attorney to learn more about your rights in your case.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Can Uber Be Sued for Sexual Assault of Passenger by Driver?

A recent ruling by a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco potentially opened the floodgates for lawsuits against the ride-sharing service Uber. The ruling was handed down in a pair of civil cases in which two women have sued, alleging that Uber, as the employer of two drivers who sexually assaulted them, holds liability for the actions of its employees.

Uber filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the claims as the drivers were independent contractors and not employees. The judge found that the women had established sufficient facts in order to show that the drivers were employees at the time of the assaults and were acting in the course and scope of their employment. 

The court's ruling allows the pair of lawsuits to move forward, but it doesn't mean that the women will ultimately be successful with their claims. It is important, however, because of the court's finding that Uber could be found to be an employer of its drivers. Under the law, employers may be held to be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees while their employees are acting within the course and scope of their employment. 

One of the plaintiffs is a woman who was assaulted by an Uber driver in Boston. That man was convicted of assault and battery and was sentenced to two years of probation. In the other case, a woman in South Carolina alleged she was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver. That man's criminal case is pending, and he is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping.

Uber has long maintained that its drivers are independent contractors and not employees. This is an important distinction under the law. Companies are not liable for the conduct of independent contractors, but they do hold potential liability for the actions of employees. The company recently settled two class-action lawsuits filed by drivers who were seeking classification as employees rather than as independent contractors. It also recently settled a suit filed by prosecutors in California in which it agreed to pay a minimum of $10 million for allegations that its background checks for the drivers are inadequate. In that case, prosecutors allege that the company doesn't conduct the same degree of investigation that is required of taxi companies by not completing fingerprint checks. Uber relies on online background checks instead.

In order to prevail in a civil sexual assault lawsuit against an employer in California, the plaintiff must be able to show several things. They must first establish that an employee-employer relationship existed. They must then show that the employee wasn't fit to do the work for which he or she was hired, that the employer either knew or should have known about the employee's unfitness and that the unfitness of the employee caused the plaintiff harm. 

In the women's cases, the court's ruling gets them past the first hurdle. It will be left for a jury to determine whether or not an employee-employer relationship did in fact exist. Another potential issue the plaintiffs will likely need to address is whether or not Uber knew or should have known that the two men in question were unfit for the jobs for which they were hired. The suit by the prosecutors regarding the company's inadequate background checks is illuminating and points to an argument the plaintiffs could potentially make in order to establish this required element of their cases.

If a person is sexually assaulted, he or she may file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. A lawsuit may be filed even if the perpetrator is also facing criminal prosecution. When the defendant is working at the time he or she commits the assault, the victim may file suit against both the perpetrator and his or her employer. People who are assaulted by drivers while using a ride-share service should contact a civil sexual assault attorney to learn about their rights.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

California Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Bill Cosby On Hold

On March 30, the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge presiding over the civil case filed by plaintiff Judy Huth against Bill Cosby placed the civil matter on hold. Mr. Cosby's defense attorneys had filed a motion requesting that the court stay discovery in the civil matter during his criminal prosecution, which is currently pending in Pennsylvania. Gloria Allred, who is representing Ms. Huth in the sexual battery and emotional distress civil suit, had argued against the defense motion, but the court agreed with the position of the defense. In his ruling, the judge indicated that the hold on the civil matter may be lifted at a later time if the criminal matter in Pennsylvania takes too long of a time. 

Parallel criminal and civil justice cases


Sexual assault victims may seek redress through both the criminal and civil justice systems simultaneously. It is very common for victims to file civil lawsuits against the perpetrators while criminal matters are also pending against the defendants for the same or similar conduct. Parallel proceedings are allowed in both the state and federal judicial systems in California and throughout the U.S. Parallel matters bring up difficult issues regarding the constitutional rights of the defendants and unfairness to both plaintiffs and those who are accused. This means that courts often will stay civil matters until the corollary criminal cases are completed.

Civil discovery and the 5th Amendment right to remain silent

A major issue in parallel proceedings is that criminal defendants have the right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This right is meant to prevent people from being forced to incriminate themselves. During the discovery process in a civil case, defendants and others may be deposed. Depositions involve questioning under oath by attorneys. If a civil defendant also has a pending criminal matter for the same or similar alleged conduct, testifying under oath in the civil matter may incriminate them in their criminal case. This is why civil discovery is often placed on hold in civil sexual battery cases while the criminal sexual assault cases proceed.

Why victims file civil cases when criminal cases are pending


Because of the potential loss of liberty, the burden of proof placed on the prosecution in a criminal proceeding is beyond a reasonable doubt. By contrast, a civil lawsuit carries a burden of proof for plaintiffs to prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence. Civil courts determine whether defendants are liable for the plaintiff's injuries. If the defendants are found liable, the plaintiffs will normally be awarded monetary damages from them. While the burden in criminal matters is very high, the burden in civil cases is much lower, making civil matters easier to prove. Sexual assault victims thus often file civil lawsuits against their abusers even though the defendants are being criminally prosecuted. It is possible that even if the person's criminal prosecution is unsuccessful, they may still be found to be liable in the civil case, allowing the victims to receive some justice in at least one forum. 

Hiring a civil litigation attorney while a criminal case is pending


Civil lawsuits carry strict statutes of limitations. These are deadlines within which cases must be filed. If a statute of limitations expires, the victims may be forever barred from ever filing their civil matters. Criminal cases can take a significant amount of time, especially when they involve allegations of sexual assaults or rapes. If the victim waits to retain a civil attorney until the criminal case is over, the victim runs the risk of having the statute of limitations expire. It is thus a good idea for victims to retain a civil litigation attorney while the criminal cases are still pending. 

Even if the civil court issues a stay, the case will still have been filed within the required time frame so the plaintiff's recovery rights will be preserved. If a stay is deemed to place a substantial hardship on the plaintiff, a court may still deny it. In this case, the court has indicated that the issue of lifting the stay may be revisited if the criminal case takes too long. A civil litigation attorney may litigate to lift a stay if the stay is posing a hardship for his or her client.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sexual Assault Civil Jury Verdict in Los Angeles

A Los Angeles Superior Court case that involved sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse ended recently with a ruling for the plaintiff. The plaintiff was an enthusiastically spiritual person who wanted to learn from teachers and experienced people who shared her faith. Jena Scaccetti thought she had found the perfect spiritual advisors and guides in at Kabbalah Center International. Unfortunately, the center gave her an experience that was so devastating that the courts felt she should receive compensation. The victim received more than $177,000 for the suffering that she received instead of the spiritual growth she desired. 


More About the Case


Millions of people want to find their way to being closer to the higher power. They sincerely want to learn how to serve the higher power in the best possible way. Unfortunately, predators and abusive types sometimes use religion, faith and authority to assault and attack their victims. Such persons often believe that spiritual people are easy prey because they want to please the higher power. As the years pass, the number of persons who experience cases like these keeps growing.


Mrs. Scaccetti encountered a heinous act of sexual abuse, emotional abuse and what seemed like terrorism from an individual who was supposed to be her spiritual advisor. Yehuda Berg, who held the titles of counselor and spiritual advisor, tried to entice Mrs. Scaccetti to drink and get drunk so that he could force himself on her. He attempted to drug the victim, as well. When his efforts did not succeed, the defendant resorted to threatening physical violence. The victim stated that the accused said he would beat her black and blue if she reported the incident to anyone. He threatened to take her life, as well. 


Multiple Cases of Negligence


Negligence appears in this case in more than one area. First, the Kabbalah Center International was guilty of neglect according to the rules of personal injury. The establishment was responsible for training its supervisors correctly and monitoring them carefully. Therefore, the establishment was partially responsible for the offenses that Mr. Berg committed. Mr. Berg is guilty of negligence and abuse on several levels, as well. Sexual assault occurs when one person tries to rape another person, whether the attempt fails or not. The threats and emotional devastation that Mr. Berg put on the victim takes the neglect to a much deeper level that warrants punitive damage. People who have positions of authority such as Mr. Berg are held to a higher standard than other persons are. They are expected to look out for the welfare of their students or their clients. Mr. Berg betrayed the victim’s trust and scarred the reputation of the organization that employed him. 


The Case Specifics


The attorneys for the victim claimed that she had suffered severe emotional distress and that such distress was evidently manifesting on a daily basis in a physical sense. The lawyers sought compensation from Berg himself and Kabbalah Center International because of the neglect. The presiding judge disallowed the specialists that the plaintiff had to testify. The defendant denied all allegations of mishandling the plaintiff or treating her poorly in any way. The case lasted almost two years because of the rebuttals and the denials, but the victim prevailed in the end. The courts found both defendants to be guilty of neglect, malice, oppression, fraud and more. The defendant’s denial of the offense most likely made the outcome worse. The plaintiff ended up receiving more than $177,000 for the emotional distress and physical ailments that occurred because of such distress. She received $85,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages from Berg. An additional $42,000 was awarded to the victim from Kabbalah Center International. Judges only order punitive damages if the neglect is excessive, and the victim wins the initial compensatory damages. The arbitration and jury verdict only took four days to complete. 


Sexual Assault Is Unacceptable


A victim is entitled to speak to a civil claims attorney for an injury like the one that Mrs. Scaccetti experienced. Offenders must make restitution for what they do so that the victims can try to rebuild their lives. Compassionate attorneys will fight for the victims.