Sexual Abuse Litigation

What are Penn State's Next Steps in an Institutional Crisis?

When an institutional like Penn State is facing a major scandal, how it acts to redress wrongdoing is crucial to both its legal and public standing....

At Penn State, "the victims were in no way figuring into the administration's thinking," says Lawrence Z. Kotler, an attorney who specializes in sexual abuse litigation at Carlin & Ward in New Jersey.

by Catherine Dunn, Corporate Counsel (November 17, 2011) Link to the full article.

Hindsight Not an Option in Sexual Abuse Cases

"With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." With these words, Joe Paterno's record breaking career at Penn State University came to an end Wednesday, when he was fired by the university's Board of Trustees. The board did what they had to do because Paterno didn't do what he should have done.
By Lawrence Z. Kotler (November 11, 2011) Download the article.

Child Sexual Abuse: A Plaintiff's Perspective

The state has lowered the bar for recovery against charitable organizations by imposing principles of vicarious liability, establishing a cause of action for negligent hiring, supervision and retention and by legislatively and judicially applying the "reasonable discovery" rule to both statutory and common law claims of child sexual abuse.
By Lawrence Z. Kotler and Scott A. Heiart. Download and read the PDF reprint of the full article as it appeared in the New Jersey Lawyer InRe Magazine (August 27, 2007).

Amended N.J. Charitable Immunity Act allows victims right to sue

An Interview with Lawrence Z. Kotler, Esq.

Q: The legislature recently passed S540, an amendment to the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act and the Governor signed it into law last week. What impact will this amendment have on sexual abuse litigation in New Jersey?

Mr. Kotler: Passage of the Amendment (the "Amendment") to New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act (the "CIA") will have a significant positive impact on the rights of individuals who are sexually abused by an employee of a religious, educational or charitable organization. With the passage of the Amendment to the CIA, individuals who are subjected to sexual abuse in a religious, educational or charitable setting will now be able to hold these institutions accountable for their negligence. Prior to enactment of the Amendment, these types of organizations were shielded from liability even if it was the negligent hiring or supervision of their employees that led to the sexual abuse. As a result of the new law, victims will now be able to seek redress for their injuries.

Q: The leading case prior to this legislation was Hardwicke v. American Boychoir School which remains undecided before the New Jersey Supreme Court. Do you think the Supreme Court will decide it now, or render it moot based on the recent legislation?

Mr. Kotler: The most significant issue in the Hardwicke case was whether or not an educational institution was immune under the CIA from lawsuits brought by former students who had been sexually abused by school employees. That issue has been rendered moot as a result of the Amendment passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Codey and there is no longer any reason for the New Jersey Supreme Court to address this issue.

Q: You recently settled a major civil sexual abuse case against Kent Place School. The perpetrator was prosecuted in a criminal case and then the victims and parents came to you to litigate against the school. What were the major legal issues facing you in presenting that case?

Mr. Kotler: The most obvious legal impediment was the uncertainty concerning the applicability of the CIA. Even though Kent Place School is an elite private all-girls school, it was still granted immunity under the CIA since it was a not for profit organization formed exclusively for educational purposes. In addition, it is always the plaintiff's burden to prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence. Nothing is ever taken for granted. The plaintiff must establish the defendant's liability and prove that her injuries were brought about as a result of the defendant's wrongful conduct. This would have required the testimony of many fact witnesses as well experts in the field of education and psychology.

Q: In your case against Kent Place School, you represented young women who were students at the time of the sexual abuses. Sexual abuse is a sensitive issue - how do you handle this with the plaintiffs and their parents? What strategies to you use to help victims through their issues?

Mr. Kotler: Our paramount concern was maintaining the privacy of the girls, both of whom were minors at the time that the acts of sexual abuse occurred. In order to assure the anonymity of the girls, we took advantage of the New Jersey Court Rules which allow us to identify the plaintiffs in our pleadings only by their first and last initials. We did the same with their parents. Throughout the case we made certain that any documents we produced were redacted to prevent disclosure of the girls' identities, and we always made certain not to refer to the girls or their parents in a manner that would have allowed anyone to identify them. In addition, I was keenly aware from the outset of the case just how difficult it was for the plaintiffs and their parents to go through the process of this type of lawsuit. My staff and I always kept this in mind. We had tremendous respect for the courage the girls displayed for taking on such a difficult emotional task.

Q: What should parents and teachers do if they suspect sexual abuse in a school, church or on a sports team?

Mr. Kotler: New Jersey law requires public and private schools to notify the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") of sexual abuse. As a result of recent New Jersey court decisions, it is incumbent upon schools to train their administrators, educators and staff in the observation, detection and reporting of sexual abuse. If parents suspect that sexual abuse is occurring, they should immediately report it to the appropriate school officials. Known acts of sexual abuse should be reported immediately to the police and the DYFS.

If you have further questions about Sexual Abuse Civil Litigation that you would like Mr. Kotler to address, please email us using the static form by clicking on Contact Us in the navigation bar to your left.

The Star-Ledger published the following article:

Charities lose sex-lawsuit shield

Codey signs bill allowing legal action against pedophiles' employers

Acting Gov. Richard Codey yesterday signed into law a measure that will allow lawsuits against churches, private schools and other nonprofit institutions for past negligent hirings of employees who sexually abused children. Friday, June 6, 2006 By Deborah Howlett, Star-Ledger Staff