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Civil Liability for Public Schools Under Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

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Over the last several years, all 50 states have passed laws that require certain people to report allegations of child sexual abuse to appropriate authorities. In Pennsylvania, for example, any person who comes into contact with children in the course of their employment must report to the Department of Public Welfare when they suspect child sexual abuse has occurred. With some variation, the same rule applies in every state. Forty-nine states require teachers to report suspected instances of child abuse.

Child sexual abuse reporting laws can also serve as the basis for civil liability. Seven states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New York, and Rhode Island, have passed laws that specifically provide that a mandated child abuse reporter, like a teacher, may be held civilly liable for damages caused by the failure to report sexual abuse. Other states also allow sexual abuse victims to recover damages for failures to report abuse, although they have not codified that right by law. In 1976, for instance, a California judge ruled that a doctor’s failure to report child abuse in violation of California’s mandatory reporting law could serve as the basis for a lawsuit for abuse, despite the fact the law itself did not provide a private cause of action. A powerful argument can be made that the California court’s reasoning should apply to lawsuits against schools and teachers for failure to report abuse.

Andreozzi + Foote represents survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault across the country, and has experience with mandatory reporting laws. If you or someone you know has fallen victim to sexual abuse, sexual assault, or another crime, do not hesitate to call our office. We do not charge for phone consultations, and will do everything we can to help.

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