Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Swift Justice for Taylor Swift Sexual Assault Lawsuit

Taylor Swift prevails in groping lawsuit
On August 14, 2017, Taylor Swift's countersuit against the radio disc jockey who allegedly groped her during a photo shoot in June 2013 ended with a jury verdict in Swift's favor. The verdict came after the jury deliberated for four hours. Swift had sought nominal damages in the amount of $1, which is what she will receive. Swift only sought nominal damages because her goal was to obtain a judgment that could empower other victims of sexual assault to come forward and report their abuse.

Swift's case

Swift was scheduled to hold a concert in Denver, Colorado in June 2013. Before the concert, she attended a meet-and-greet event and posed for pictures with some of the attendees, including the radio disc jockey and his girlfriend. When the photo was taken, Swift alleged that the disc jockey reached under the back of her skirt and fondled her buttocks. The photo shows his arm and hand obscured behind her back somewhere below her waist, but it does not show the actual groping. Swift reported the incident to her own team and to her mother immediately after it happened. Her management company contacted the DJ's bosses, and he was subsequently fired two days later. He filed a lawsuit against Swift, her mother and her radio promotions director in 2015, alleging defamation and tortious interference with his employment contract. Swift countersued for sexual assault and sought nominal damages of $1.

The judge dismissed the DJ's defamation claim against Swift in May 2017. He subsequently dismissed Swift from the DJ's lawsuit as a defendant during the trial, finding that there was not enough evidence that she had acted improperly. The jury found both Swift's mother and her promotions director not guilty of tortious interference and returned a verdict in Swift's favor on her countersuit.

Why people seek nominal damages

In order to prove that a wrong occurred and to have a jury or a judge decide a controversy, plaintiffs must show that they were harmed. In some cases, plaintiffs may have suffered very minimal or no financial losses but still want to obtain a court judgment that the wrong did happen. Nominal damages allow plaintiffs to seek legal remedies for wrongs in such cases. Courts may award nominal damages to plaintiffs in order to show that they are in the right and would have recovered monetary damages if any financial losses had resulted. In cases in which the defendants' behavior was especially egregious, a nominal damages award also opens the door for the courts to award punitive damages that are designed to punish the defendants and to serve as deterrents to others.

Why Swift sought nominal damages

While Swift did not suffer financial harm in the incident, she stated that she decided to file her countersuit in order to give a voice to other women who have been victims of similar incidents of sexual assault. Swift wants sexual assault victims to feel empowered by her verdict and her case to report their own sexual assaults. Because she is a public figure, Swift believes that her trial and the favorable verdict may help to establish a line about what is unacceptable. This may help others to understand what type of behaviors they should avoid while also helping the victims feel more confident in defending themselves and reporting their assaults.

Contact an experienced lawyer

Many sexual assault incidents are not prosecuted because of the difficulty of overcoming the burden of proof required by the criminal justice system. Civil sexual assault cases have a lower burden of proof, which may allow victims to recover damages and to hold the defendants liable for their wrongful acts even if the defendants are never criminally prosecuted. In some cases, simultaneous criminal and civil cases may proceed separately, and the victim may win in civil court while the defendant may be found not guilty in criminal court. Filing a civil sexual assault case may allow victims to hold their abusers accountable for their wrongs. If you have suffered from a sexual assault, contact an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney today to learn more about the rights that you might have.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Could Your Doctor Be A Sexual Predator?

It is scary to think about but, could your doctor be a sexual predator?  According to an investigation conducted by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, doctors who sexually abuse patients are protected from disclosing their pasts to their other patients. This means that people who trust their doctors may be receiving treatment from someone who might be a sexual predator. The issue is that no state requires doctors who are on probation for sexual abuse or other abuse with patients to inform their other patients about their records. The California legislature had a proposed bill before it that would require this disclosure to be made. If it had passed, California would have been the first state with such a requirement. The bill was killed on the Senate floor in June 2016, however.

The secrecy of the disciplinary system for doctors

The problem is national in scope. Four states do not post any disciplinary records for physicians online, and nine of the states erase the posted information in as few as five years. In 21 states, some misconduct cases involving doctors are handled secretly instead of in public, meaning the public has no way of knowing that their doctors have been disciplined.

The investigation

The Atlanta Constitution-Journal examined thousands of hearing documents from medical disciplinary boards across the country. It found 2,400 doctors who had been disciplined for sexual misconduct involving patients. Of those, 50 percent still had their medical licenses and were practicing. 

Most medical boards do require doctors to disclose being placed on probation with the state's medical board to the hospitals at which they have admitting privileges. They are similarly required to inform their medical malpractice insurance carriers. No state requires such disclosures to their patients, however, leaving consumers largely in the dark.

The proposal

California Senate Bill 1033 would have required doctors who were disciplined for sexual misconduct involving patients to inform their patients. The bill was made inactive on June 2, 2016, effectively killing it. Medical lobbyists had hotly contested the proposed bill. Opponents of the legislation argued that the bill would treat doctors unfairly, potentially forcing some to report fabrications or unsubstantiated allegations that the doctors were unable to defend themselves against before the medical boards.

Lobbyists claim that some doctors agree to accept probation rather than having allegations against them publicly aired. A majority of those who are placed on probation are required to have their patient interactions supervised by an observer who remains in the room while the doctor is meeting with patients during the probationary period. Disclosure is still not mandated, however.

California's BreEZe system

California has an online database listing doctors who have been disciplined called BreEZe. The system is difficult to use to find information about doctors, requiring people to search through multiple entries and pages before finding information about sexual misconduct. 

In one case reported by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, an Orange County psychiatrist by the name of Michael Knight who was placed on probation for sexual misconduct with patients, including kissing one and allegedly forcing himself sexually on another, is currently on probation until 2020 while still practicing medicine under supervision. When the newspaper looked through the state's BreEZe system to locate the information about him, it found that it took finding the state's medical board website, clicking a link on it, finding the doctor's name, determining which doctor among those with similar names was the correct one and scrolling through to a second page at the bottom to finally find a link to disciplinary records. The paper reported that the information containing any mention of the sexual misconduct allegations against the doctor didn't appear until the third page of the disciplinary document.

Getting legal help

People need to have a trust relationship with their doctors. It is important for consumers to be able to trust that their treating medical professionals have been screened and are competent and professional. Unfortunately, patients may simply not know when their treating doctors or nurses have been disciplined for sexually abusing patients, potentially exposing them to abuse themselves. People who have been victimized by medical professionals may want to contact a personal injury attorney in California who has experience with civil sexual abuse cases committed by medical doctors. Contact an injury attorney for a consultation.


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. 


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.


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).


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.