Penn State Faces Civil Lawsuits for Failing to Protect Victims

Our country is proud of its heroes. Unfortunately, the opportunity to be a hero is often tied to a great tragedy. In the case of Penn State's terrible child abuse disaster, the children that were abused now have the opportunity to emerge as heroes - taking steps to ensure similar tragedies do not happen to future generations.

Sexual abuse is a horrendous crime that is taken very seriously in Pennsylvania.

There are potentially two types of lawsuits involved in sex abuse cases: Criminal lawsuits, which punish abusers, and civil lawsuits, which can offer the victims financial relief. This relief can come in the form of monetary compensation to cover the cost of counseling and other expenses needed to help the victim heal from the abuse.

While the state punishes direct abusers for their actions, victims can also hold the organizations accountable that ignored or covered up the abuse. Schools, for example, must protect the children in their care and can be held liable if they fail to do so.

Penn State is now facing multiple civil lawsuits from the victims of Jerry Sandusky's abuse. Sandusky, a former assistant football coach for Penn State, was found guilty of multiple counts of child abuse.

More victims are encouraged to step forward and hold Penn State civilly liable.

Impact of Freeh Report

Former FBI director Louis Freeh led an internal investigation of the incident at Penn State. According to his report, powerful academic officials within the university worked to cover up the sexual abuse and rape of children by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. As a result, the officials failed to protect the children from a sexual predator for more than ten years.

Allegations of the abuse began in May of 1998, due to the diligence of one concerned mother. Sandusky was confronted for touching her son's "private parts" while campus police listened in the next room. Instead of denying the allegations, he claimed they could be true.

The campus police chief allowed an investigation but told Football Coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Timothy Curley, Senior Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Schultz and President Graham B. Spanier that he would not file an official crime log.

Graduate assistant Mike McQueary allegedly also made a report of sexual abuse by Sandusky to Paterno in 2002. Investigators discovered various emails between Curley, Schultz and Spanier discussing how to handle the allegations. Within these emails, the men came to a consensus that no report should be made, but instead the situation should be "carefully and responsibly" assessed - a decision that left many young men unprotected from Sandusky's predatory actions.

The failure to report this incident has led to charges against the athletic director, Curley, and the finance official, Schultz. These charges include perjury and failing to alert authorities.

Pennsylvania State Law: Duty to Report the Sexual Abuse of a Child

Standing up against the sexual abuse of a child is not an easy task. However, everyone should, and certain people are required to, report child abuse.

In 1990, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the Child Protective Services Law. The law was meant to expand the reporting requirement requiring medical, educational and childcare professionals to report any suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse, to the proper authorities.

The law states that a professional must make a report if the professional "has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience, that a child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse."

The presence of repeated accusations against Sandusky and an investigation conducted by campus police that appeared to support the allegations likely satisfies the "reasonable cause to suspect" element of the law. This adds strength to the argument that Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier were legally required to report the allegations made against Sandusky.

Civil Suits Against Penn State

If a victim can establish that the school owed a duty of care and failed to meet this duty, the victim would likely win a civil suit against the university. The conviction of Sandusky helps to establish that the abuse occurred, but the current case against Curley and Schultz will add strength to the allegation that the university was aware of the abuse and failed to protect the victims.

Three civil lawsuits are currently pending against the university, and a fourth is likely to be filed in the near future. The suits allege the university failed to protect the victims, and is guilty of "negligence, negligent supervision, premises liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy to endanger children," according to a Penn State Board of Trustee member.

The suits are intended to help victims find closure in their healing process. If you or a loved one was victimized by a sexual predator, it is important to know that compensation may be available to help provide counseling and hold responsible parties accountable for their actions.

Every situation is unique. As a result, it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Pennsylvania sexual abuse lawyer to better ensure your legal rights and remedies are protected.