Friday, October 14, 2016
Appeals Court Takes Broad View of Statute Waiving Tort Claim Filing in Child Sex Abuse Cases
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A statute that waives the requirement that a tort claim be filed as a prerequisite to suing a public agency for childhood sexual abuse is not limited to cases in which the alleged abuser was employed by the agency, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Six on Wednesday reinstated a lawsuit brought on behalf of a child identified as A.M. The complaint alleged that in 2012 and 2013, when A.M. was attending an elementary school in Ventura, she was bullied, battered, and sexually abused by some of her fellow students, and that her mother’s complaints did not result in action by the school district.
One of the defendants, the child’s teacher, allegedly told the mother that it was not up to the school “to fix things,” while the principal allegedly suggested that the child transfer to another school. The mother said she was forced to homeschool the child, beginning in April 2013.
The mother served a tort claim on Ventura County, which rejected it, but not on the district. She then sued the district for negligent supervision of students, sexual harassment, and infliction of emotional distress on both mother and child, among other things.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh granted summary judgment on the ground that Code of Civil Procedure §905(m), which eliminates the claims-presentation requirement in childhood sexual abuse cases, as long as suit is filed within the applicable limitations period—which runs until the victim’s 26th birthday when the defendant is not the immediate perpetrator of the abuse—applies only when the abuse was committed “by an employee, volunteer, representative or agent of a public entity.”
However, Justice Steven Perren, writing for the Court of Appeal, rejected Walsh’s reading of the statute.
The legislation, he explained, was enacted in reaction to Shirk v. Vista Unified School Dist. (2007) 42 Cal.4th 201, in which the high court held that previous legislation expanding the statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases did not accrue to the plaintiff’s benefit if the case was brought against a public entity and the claims-presentation requirement was not met.
Perren said A.M.’s claims were timely because they were brought within the expanded statute of limitations. He also rejected the defendant’s contention that §905(m) was not intended to apply to a plaintiff who brings claims while still a minor.
The case is A.M. v. Ventura Unified School District, 16 S.O.S. 5059.
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