Dozens of School Sexual Misconduct Settlements of $1 Million or More Recorded in 2022

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School Districts ‘Paying Big’ After Dozens of Sexual Misconduct Settlements

School Districts ‘Paying Big’ After Dozens of Sexual Misconduct Settlements

Feb 9, 2023

School districts across the United States paid out major damages awards and settlements of $1 million or more last year for lawsuits related to sexual misconduct, crimes, and discrimination, according to a report from Education Week. Based on data from a study conducted by United Educators, an insurance and risk management company focused on schools and colleges, the Education Week article noted that many of the major settlements are linked to crimes dating back decades.

Entitled “Large Loss Report of 2023,” the study from United Educators confirmed the following statistics:

  • 69 publicly reported damages awards and settlements of $1 million or more among K-12 schools and colleges were recorded in 2022.
  • That figure – the total number of damages awards and settlements – was up from 38 which equaled $1 million or more in 2021.

However, as the Education Week article noted, those statistics are likely an underestimate of the true number of million dollar school sexual misconduct settlements given that the data is only pulled from publicly available records and reports. “There are likely some settlements and jury awards that aren’t public,” Education Week said.

Why Are School Sexual Assault Lawsuits Increasing?

Education Week cited a number of factors leading to the increasing number of school sexual assault and misconduct settlements. Specifically, Education Week listed the following trends:

  • A growing tendency by sexual abuse victims to hold institutions accountable for how they address abuse
  • State law changes that allow more childhood sexual abuse survivors to sue
  • A greater mistrust of educational institutions which has spurred more lawsuits and larger jury awards

“Beyond the legal and financial consequences, there’s an emotional impact, as students and staff members come to terms with potential wrongdoing by their district, and a reputational cost,” Education Week said.

Additional statistics confirmed through the United Educators’ study include:

  • One-third of large settlements reported in 2022 (23 claims) stemmed from sexual misconduct incidents.
  • In 2021, 13 of the damages awards and settlements (34%) were related to sexual misconduct claims.
  • In 2022, the cost of sexual misconduct claims included in the report ranged from $1 million to more than $600 million.
  • The largest award, totaling $615.6 million, was paid out by the University of California system, which was accused of negligence for employing a gynecologist who sexually abused dozens of women.

Half a billion dollars or more, I don’t care how big the institution is. That’s game changing, and could be institution-destroying, depending on the fiscal strength of that institution and the [insurance] coverage they may have,” Bryan Elie, vice president of underwriting and product development for United Educators, told Education Week. “Regardless, it’s taxing, and that’s an impact that’s going to be felt for a while.”

In 2022, several California school districts were ordered to pay damages or settled lawsuits stemming from allegations that administrators did not act swiftly to investigate employees accused of sexually abusing students:

  • Union School District
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Riverside Unified School District
  • Pasadena Unified School District

Additionally, Education Week cited one high-damages award stemming from a school sexual assault case in Hawaii as evidence of an ongoing trend in civil claims against educational institutions.

“The state of Hawaii and its education department will pay $10 million to a former high school student with developmental disabilities who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by several students while in school. The woman’s family said school employees were aware of the problem but took no action to intervene,” Education Week said.

As the graph below demonstrates, school damages awards and settlements related to sexual assault and misconduct claims have increased substantially (photo provided by United Educators):

Damage Awards Settlement Trends Large Loss Report

According to Education Week, Insurance policies typically cover much of the sum school districts must pay out for sexual assault and misconduct cases. However, the large damages awards and settlements still carry financial consequences.

And as Education Week’s report noted, school reputations are often tainted for years after a sexual assault lawsuit is resolved.

“If you’re a teacher and administrator at a public school district, you’re getting paid to teach and manage, not to talk to attorneys or go through depositions, but it can become a huge distraction,” Elie said. “It could cause an institution to really retrench and have to reevaluate some of their core activities that are integral to education.”

Lookback Windows Affording More Survivors of School Sexual Abuse Justice

One major factor impacting the increase in school sexual abuse lawsuits is state-level legislation which can either extend or remove the statute of limitations on claims.

Driving some of the increase in the number and value of districts‘ largest losses is a movement among states to extend the statute of limitations on sexual misconduct claims. Those extensions mean allegations from decades ago can surface and spur new lawsuits,” Education Week reported.

In California, Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) opened a three-year lookback window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil claims. The lookback window officially closed at the end of 2022, but survivors who are under 40 may still be able to sue schools, teachers, and administrators who engaged in or enabled sexual abuse.

As Bryan Elie of United Educators noted, juries seem more likely now than in decades past to scrutinize whether schools “did everything possible” to protect students’ and staff members’ safety.

As a result, in addition to the dozens of school sexual abuse settlements and damages awards totaling $1 million or more, claims leading to awards of $250,000 or more have also increased significantly. According to the study from United Educators, 107 such awards were recorded in 2022. That figure is up from just 19 damages awards of $250,000 or more in 2015.

“Where you would go back 20 years ago, there may have been more deference to the decisions that were being made at educational institutions, and today [juries] are really questioning that you’re really doing all that you can in the name of safety,” Elie said.

And as Education Week reported, schools and educational institutions are now taking a more proactive approach to risk management.

“Rather than just drafting policies that outline a commitment to safety, schools need to actively enforce those policies by training employees, talking to families and students about their responsibilities, and investigating claims of wrongdoing or danger immediately,” Education Week said.

“I think what we’re seeing now is educational institutions of all types actually have to actively manage the risks and their exposures and create a cultural change,” Elie said to Education Week. “It’s not just the people at the top. It’s sort of everybody’s job to think and to act with care and concern to move the needle to prevent [these] claims and situations.”

How to File Your School Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

If you are a survivor of school sexual assault or abuse, filing a civil claim with Dordulian Law Group (DLG) against your perpetrator can be a means of securing justice on your own terms and recovering the financial compensation you deserve. A civil lawsuit is separate from any criminal proceedings that may be brought against a sexual predator by the District Attorney’s Office.

By contacting DLG’s California school sex abuse attorneys for a free consultation, we will review your case and provide you with all available legal options. We will fight tirelessly to secure all applicable damages for past harm endured by a teacher, principal, counselor, coach , or clergy member:

  • Hospital expenses
  • Medical care/treatment costs (past and future)
  • Counseling or therapy expenses (past and future)
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma/psychological harm
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Lost wages due to the sexual abuse
  • Lost earning capacity due to the sexual abuse
  • Punitive damages

Examples of recent California school sexual abuse lawsuits that have been settled and garnered major headlines include:

  • A San Jose school was ordered to pay $7.5 million to five men who were sexually abused by their elementary school teacher in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
  • Survivors of a former Sun Valley high school wrestling coach were awarded a $52 million settlement in October 2022. The complaint alleged that the Los Angeles Unified School District knew of prior sexual misconduct and did nothing about it.
  • A jury awarded $102.5 million in March 2022 to two women who sued a Northern California school district. The complaint alleged that officials failed to stop a middle school teacher from sexually grooming and abusing them as minors.
  • In April 2022, a $13.7 million settlement was reached with the Riverside Unified School District after 10 students alleged sexual abuse by former school technology aide Fernando Figueroa. The survivors ranged between the ages of 7 and 11 at the time of the abuse.
  • An $11 million school sex abuse settlement was reached between Redlands Unified School District and seven survivors. The plaintiffs, initially named in four separate lawsuits, accused a former Clement Middle School teacher, Sean Ramiro Lopez, of various sex crimes (Lopez is currently serving a 74-year prison sentence for sexual abuse).

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

If you have questions about your school sexual abuse civil lawsuit, contact a member of DLG’s SAJE Team today for a confidential consultation at 866-GO-SEE-SAM. DLG was founded by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County whose more than 25 years of experience includes obtaining life sentences against some of our community’s most dangerous sex offenders.

Go See Sam