The Syracuse Post Standard reports today that State police have arrested a 28-year old socio-therapist at a residential center for teenage boys on rape charges. The socio-therapist is alleged to have had sexual contact with a 15-year-old resident of Snell Farms Children Center in Bath, in Steuben County.
Criminal charges have been filed, but the question I want to address in today’s blog is, what are the possible CIVIL LAW consequences? In other words, assume the child has suffered some psychological trauma, pain and suffering, and has a need for psychological treatment. Can the child, through a parent or guardian, bring a New York rape or child abuse lawsuit for money damages to pay for his treatment and to compensate him? Who would the child-victim sue and how would he be compensated?
The child, through his guardian or parent, can sue both the alleged rapist and the employer, Snell Farms Children Center. The lawsuit against the rapist would allege assault and battery and other intentional acts. But, even if the child wins at trial, that lawsuit would almost certainly be a waste of time and money. Why? Because even if this socio-therapist has liability insurance, such as homeowner’s insurance, the insurance company won’t pay out a dime on this case. Insurance never covers INTENTIONAL wrongdoing. And what can be more intentional than rape?
What about the employer, the Snell Farms Children Center? Can the child-victim, through a guardian or parent, sue the employer? Yes. But the employer is not automatically liable for the rape committed by its employee. The child’s lawyer must prove that the employer was NEGLIGENT in hiring, retaining, or supervising its employee, the alleged rapist. If the employer carefully checked its employee’s background before the hiring, and found no past incidents of child abuse, and if the employer properly supervised the employee’s work and had no reason to suspect such behavior, then the employer cannot be held liable.
It might be a tough case against the employer, but at least the employer’s liability insurance will cover the costs of the legal defense and, if the jury renders a verdict favorable to the plaintiff, will pay money damages to the child.
But wait a minute! Didn’t we just say that insurance won’t cover intentional wrongdoing? True, but while “rape” is by definition “intentional”, the EMPLOYER’S wrongdoing, if any, was not “intentional” (the employer did not commit the rape), but merely “NEGLIGENT”. In other words, although the employer may not have been careful enough in hiring or supervising its employee, it did not “intentionally” harm the child. It was at most “negligent”, and “negligence” is precisely what liability insurance is supposed to cover.