Jun 23, 2021
Last week, we published a blog detailing the disturbing allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and misconduct spanning 40 years at Ojai’s Thacher School. A Special Committee Report published by Thacher School officials had been released a day earlier, and media outlets around the nation covered the story.
After admitting that the Thacher Board, faculty, and administrators “failed to protect students in our care,” the Committee Report indicated that the institution would henceforth implement “corrective actions,” and noted that efforts to protect students from sexual misconduct are “constant and ongoing.”
In terms of actual action the Thacher School will take to achieve those stated efforts, the report cited:
The report indicated the aforementioned “support fund” would be anonymously and independently managed and operated by RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) founder and president, Sam Dordulian, is a member of RAINN’s National Leadership Council, and the organization’s oversight of the Thacher “support fund” is certainly welcome news in an otherwise odious story of wanton and systemic sexual abuse and misconduct that ostensibly took place as an open secret for four decades.
But what recourse do survivors of the Thacher School sexual abuse scandal have, and how can they obtain a semblance of justice on their own terms?
California’s Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218), the landmark legislation that temporarily tolls (pauses) the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse crimes, has proven to not simply be an unprecedented opportunity at justice for thousands of survivors, but somewhat of a lodestar in helping to effect similar positive change in a number of states around the nation.
Cases of systemic sexual abuse (and potential cover-ups) like those allegedly occurring at Thacher for so many years are quintessential examples of why AB 218 was enacted. Below we’ll review what AB 218 entails and also discuss how the legislation may provide legal recourse for Thacher student survivors.
California AB 218 officially took effect on January 1, 2020. The legislation provides a number of changes to the law that can help survivors of childhood sexual abuse more easily obtain the justice they deserve. Perhaps the most important aspect of AB 218 is the three-year “lookback window” clause.
DLG’s founder, Sam Dordulian, uses a “time machine” metaphor when describing AB 218’s lookback window, effectively allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse to “go back in time, as far back as we need to” when pursuing a civil lawsuit against a perpetrator (whether an individual or an entity/organization).
The lookback window removes the standard statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse crimes for three years, allowing any survivor to file a claim seeking financial compensation – regardless of how long ago the crime occurred. Prior to AB 218’s passage, survivors of childhood sexual abuse would have been left without any legal recourse if the crime against them occurred outside the statute of limitations. But until December 31, 2022, every single survivor of childhood sexual abuse has the opportunity to file a civil claim in pursuit of a maximum financial damages award.
However, as this lookback window is only available for a limited time, survivors are strongly encouraged to file a claim as soon as possible to ensure the deadline it met and the likelihood of successfully recovering compensation is not affected.
For Thacher School survivors, the second aspect of AB 218 that may apply is what’s known as the treble damages clause. Treble signifies ‘triple,’ and in cases of childhood sexual abuse where a cover-up occurred, survivors may be able to collect triple financial damages awards.
If a cover-up of sexual abuse took place, AB 218 provides courts with the latitude to force defendants to pay up to three times the amount of actual damages to a plaintiff. In other words, if a sexual abuse survivor were awarded a $5 million settlement and a cover-up was proven, that settlement could actually be increased to $15 million.
AB 218’s treble damages clause was established to severely punish sexual predators – whether institutions or individuals – and send a message that systemic childhood sex abuse and ensuing cover-ups are not only heinous but absolutely intolerable.
Additionally, AB 218 increases the age limit for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit from 26 to 40. All survivors now have until their 40th birthday to file a claim, and this extends outside of the three-year lookback window (meaning that if you are under 40 when AB 218’s lookback window expires in 2022, you could still file a claim).
Another change to the law that is provided under AB 218 has to do with the discovery of a psychological injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Any survivor of childhood sexual abuse who discovers a psychological illness or injury that resulted from said abuse now has five years to file a claim (increased from three years). As many psychological or mental injuries from childhood sexual abuse can manifest much later in life, this is an effort to ensure survivors who have endured such an injury have the opportunity to achieve justice once a discovery is made.
Finally, AB 218 officially expands the definition of childhood sexual abuse so that it is referred to as the all-encompassing “childhood sexual assault.” This means that acts of abuse, assault, misconduct, etc. are all included under AB 218 and can warrant a survivor filing a civil lawsuit.
In summation, AB 218 enacts the following changes:
DLG was founded by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. As a sex crimes prosecutor, Dordulian successfully obtained life sentences against some of the state’s most loathsome sexual predators. With over 100 jury trial victories obtained throughout his decorated career, Dordulian offers an unparalleled level of experience together with his deep dedication for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Dordulian created DLG’s Sex Crimes Division to be different (i.e. superior) – offering a unique and all-encompassing type of representation that addresses the myriad needs survivors may face when navigating the legal process. In addition to expert legal representation, Dordulian believes – after successfully handling hundreds of sex crime cases as Deputy District Attorney – that survivors deserve a four-tiered support network.
Accordingly, Dordulian created DLG’s SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) to provide survivors of sexual abuse with unique, all-encompassing resources that can’t be found at other firms.
Dordulian’s handpicked SAJE Team of dedicated professionals includes:
With the SAJE Team available 24/7, survivors have access to critical resources and added advantages that can help ease the burden of reliving trauma such as childhood sexual abuse. Pursuing justice against a sexual predator can be a harrowing endeavor, but DLG makes every effort to ensure each survivor’s well-being is always the first priority.
And, as Dordulian has noted in previous blogs, deciding to come forward and pursue justice that is long overdue can be a truly empowering experience for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
“What I’ve found over the years, assisting hundreds of survivors, is that those who have gone through the legal process typically find it very empowering. They were once terrified of this scary predator, but eventually come to realize he’s actually not that intimidating when sitting quietly and meek in a courtroom with deputies standing over him, and is eventually carted away in handcuffs. For the first time, it’s the survivors who are now in control, not the perpetrator. And when a survivor takes back that control from the abuser, it can be incredibly healing. I’ve represented victims on countless occasions who are terrified before taking the stand. However, when they decide to take that step, to walk up, get on the stand and testify before that now meek and incarcerated perpetrator, inevitably they come to magically realize that this awful person who had hurt them so severely no longer has any power,” says Dordulian.
With a 98% success rate and history of recovering more than $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts, DLG’s dedication, professionalism, and abilities are crucial factors that can help give survivors seeking justice peace of mind.
Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 for more information on how we can help you file a claim under AB 218. If you’d like to ask a question of one of our SAJE Team members, or arrange a free consultation, we’re available 24/7.
At DLG, we believe survivors, and we’ll fight aggressively as your legal advocate to ensure justice is obtained and you recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.