California Appellate Court Decision on Civil Liability for Sexual Assault

At The Brod Law Firm, we represent victims of sexual assault in San Francisco in civil damages lawsuits. As a quick reminder, the civil law system is distinct from the criminal courts and allows a victim to file a claim for damages against an individual or entity responsible for causing harm to the victim. These suits proceed separately from any criminal charges brought by prosecutors. In the sexual assault arena, a civil lawsuit allows a victim to seek damages for both physical and psychological injuries. The amount of monetary damages in these cases can (and, given the lifelong consequences of sexual assault, should) be high, much more than could ever be realistically recovered from an individual offender. This makes it crucial for a victim to consider all parties that bore responsibility for the sexual assault. Helping victims do so is a key part of our job in these cases, cases that are always close to our hearts.

Appeals Court Rejects Liability of City for Assault Committed During Educational Program
As detailed in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, a recent holding in a state appellate court clarified the contours of the ability to sue a municipality in connection with a sexual assault and, more generally, the ability to hold an employer responsible for the acts of an employee. According to the court, Jorge Cruz coerced a seventeen year old identified as Kassey S. to have sex with him in 2007. Cruz, a Turlock police officer, entered a no contest plea in the criminal case and the court sentenced him to sixteen months in prison on three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. The teen had been taking part in a police department explorer program through which young people learn about law enforcement careers. The assaults occurred during one-on-one ride-alongs with the on-duty officer. Although Cruz claimed the sex was consensual, it was still against the law due to the young woman’s age. Kassey later filed suit against the city of Turlock, alleging it was responsible for the actions of its employee. A county court dismissed her case and the appeals court affirmed the decision.

The main issue before the court was whether the criminal acts fell within the “scope of employment.” Lawyers for Kassey S. cited a state Supreme Court decision finding that a rape committed by a police officer was a foreseeable consequence of the authority granted to armed law enforcement. As such, the city was held liable for the assault. However, the court cited a 2002 decision that distinguished an assault committed by an officer during a voluntary program. In that case, the court noted that such programs create a different relationship than that between an officer and a suspect and concluded that sexual abuse committed during such a program did not arise out of the officer’s job-created authority. Another key precedent was a 1989 state Supreme Court case that refused to hold a school district liable for sexual abuse perpetrated by a teacher during an after-school program. There, the court held the district could not have foreseen the assault and could not have reasonably prevented it short of shutting down all after-school programs. Relying on these prior decisions, the Fifth District Court of Appeal found that even though Cruz had been on-duty during the assaults, his conduct did not fall within the scope of employment and the city of Turlock could not be held responsible as his employer.

The appellate court also rejected an alternative argument presented by Kassey’s attorney. Her lawyer suggested that even if Turlock was not responsible for the initial assault, the city should be held liable for the subsequent assaults because the officer failed to comply with his legal duty to report any suspicion of child abuse to an appropriate state agency. While officers are mandatory reporters, the court held Cruz’s duties did not extend to reporting his own actions given the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Our Role as a Civil Law Firm for Northern California Sexual Assault Victims
As a San Francisco sexual assault victims’ law firm, we believe in holding all responsible parties liable for civil damages following assault and/or rape. We work with our clients to consider all possible defendants in these cases. In some cases, this means distinguishing precedent, explaining to the court why a case is different from one in which liability was not found.

We know that financial recovery is essential to obtaining the psychological (and, in some cases, medical) help that victims need in the wake of such a horrible violation. This is not about greed; this is about holding people and organizations responsible for their role in these disturbing crimes.

See Related Blog Posts:
Lawsuit Seeks to Hold School Liable for Oakland Sexual Abuse Case Involving 14 Year-Old Child

Sacramento Attorney Comments on Finding Justice for Victims as a Pastor Faces Charges of Sexual Abuse of Children