Institutional abuse involves the negligent or intentional wrongful treatment of children or adults from a person or entity who is in a position of authority or trust. It might consist of physical, verbal, psychological or sexual abuse in efforts to affect a victim’s behavior. Institutional abuse can occur just about anywhere, but it most often occurs in foster homes, group homes, mental hospitals and nursing homes. Victims are typically children, developmentally disabled adults, adults who have significant health issues and the elderly. It’s generally volunteers and employees at an institution who commit this type of abuse, and not family members or friends.
Institutional Liability for Abuse of Residents
Insufficient screening of potential employees or volunteers and inadequate training can lead to injury of an institutional resident. The general rule is that an institution is responsible for the care and protection of residents who are in their care. Under the law of vicarious liability, a volunteer or employee is an agent of the institution that he or she represents. On that basis, liability for that individual’s wrongful acts or omissions can be passed on to the institution. A program of an institution might be determined to be abusive if it operates below an acceptable standard of care. An entire system might also be found to be abusive if it is overcrowded or inadequately staffed and lacks sufficient resources for the proper care of its residents.
Holding an Entity Liable for Institutional Abuse
There are several ways that an institution might be held vicariously liable in a civil case for damages for the abuse of a resident by a volunteer or employee. Some examples follow:
- By showing that the institution allowed the abuse to occur.
- Proving that the institution failed to properly screen the abuser.
- Proving the institution failed to properly monitor the abuser.
- Showing that the institution failed to notice or act on indications of abuse.
- Continued abuse after a failure to report institutional abuse to proper authorities when a reporting requirement exists.
The Burden of Proof
A lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries and damages for alleged institutional abuse is a civil case. Although a criminal case might also be filed, the criminal courts lack the authority to award damages. Any civil case for damages would be heard in a separate courtroom with a separate judge and jury. A different burden of proof applies in the civil case too. Rather than in a criminal case when a defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the civil case for damages need only be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. It’s a lower burden of proof than in in a criminal case because the freedom of the defendant isn’t at issue. By proving a case by a preponderance of the evidence, the institutional abuse victim’s version of events has been determined to be more likely true than not true. A defendant can actually be found not guilty in a criminal case, but guilty in the civil case for damages.
Contact a Thousand Oaks Institutional Abuse Lawyer:
If you believe that you or a family member were a victim of institutional abuse anywhere in California, contact our Thousand Oaks institutional abuse lawyer here at Quirk Accident and Injury Attorneys, APC at your earliest opportunity for a free consultation and case review. We’ll be pleased to answer your questions and discuss how the facts of your individual case might fit in with the controlling institutional abuse statutes and case law. In turn, that will help you to understand what needs to be done in a successful lawsuit. Evidence can disappear, recollections of events can get fuzzy and witnesses can vanish into thin air. Contact our offices about that consultation as soon as you can.