Tuesday, July 22, 2014

San Diego Jury Awards $6.5 Million to Two Teens Molested by Their AA Sponsor

Jury verdict alert posted today that two teens who filed sexual assault lawsuits against their AA sponsor and the organization who employed them were awarded $3.25 Million each for a total jury verdict of $6.5 Million.  The facts of the case (San Diego Superior Court / 37-2011-00092552-CU-PO-CTL) were as follows:

Facts of the Case: Two thirteen year old boys with history of substance abuse were placed in a private, outpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility owned and operated by defendant, Pacific Health System (PHS).  They were assigned an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who, after befriending the boys, molested them off the property of PHS.  The counselor was criminally convicted of 23 counts of sexual abuse of a minor and related charges.

Contentions of the Plaintiff: The plaintiffs contended that the drug rehab facility should have conducted a background check and done more thorough screening prior to allowing the drug counselor to have access to minors.  They also contended that the facility was negligent in failing to act upon complaints by the parents of the inordinate amount of time that the boys were spending with the perpetrator.

Defense Contentions: The defendant argued that they were not liable for the actions of the counselor in that he was a volunteer and not a paid employee of PHS.  They further argued that the parents of the boys had the choice as to whom the AA sponsor would be.

This case is very typical of the types of factual scenarios involved in sexual assault and abuse claims.  The unfortunate and familiar pattern is that of a person in authority (in this case a drug and alcohol rehab sponsor), using that authority to obtain the trust of the victims and their families and then abusing that authority through sexual assault and abuse to gratify their own, prurient interests.  When the perpetrator is an individual and is criminally convicted, the issues of whether the molestation occurred is not necessary to prove to any extensive degree in that the facts have already been adjudicated by a higher burden of proof (i.e. the criminal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt").  The difficult part is holding the entity with whom the perpetrator is associated on the hook for civil damages.  This requires some showing of notice and a failure to act by negligently hiring, supervising or retaining the individual molester. This was a difficult case in that the molester was a volunteer, however, California law provides that an agency or employee relationship can be established where there are facts to indicate that the entity had control  over the selection and retention of an individual and/or controlled their job duties and the person was acting in furtherance of the interests of the corporation.

Additional Resources: For more information about civil lawsuits related to sexual assault and abuse claims in California including Los Angeles, click here .