Beall Works to Help Survivors of Sexual Abuse
SACRAMENTO – In response an inquiry by Senator Jim Beall, the Office of Legislative Counsel has determined school districts should not impose a six-month statute of limitations for students who have been sexually abused by school personal to file a claim for damages.
The State Department of Education website has posted the letter as part of its informational guidelines and procedures for school districts.
“The Legislative Counsel’s opinion greatly clarifies the statute of limitations for students who have been sexually abused to preserve their right to seek civil damages,’’ said Beall, D-San Jose. “The opinion will prevent the practice of some school districts misapplying a government code that reduces the time a student must report an incidence of sexual abuse.
“The vast majority of children who are molested cannot process the trauma of sex abuse in six month much less than six years or 16 years. Going forward, this opinion will provide a new foundation for them to seek a measure of justice in court. This opinion will also force district officials to maintain a higher level of vigilance or face consequences in court. ’’
Beall requested the opinion after meeting with survivors of sexual abuse. “They were frustrated that the law was used as a barrier to stop them from getting restitution for the harm inflicted upon them,’’ he said. “It only served to increase their feelings of helplessness and intensified their pain.’’
The opinion said school districts cannot utilize the California’s Government Claims Act that outlines the procedure for civil actions against government entities. The claims act calls for plaintiffs to present a written claim notification within six months of the incident. Upon receiving a written denial of the claim from the district, the plaintiff has six months to file a lawsuit.
Instead, students are covered under a section of the Civil Code of Procedure that gives them until age 26 to file an action or within three years of discovering their psychology trauma or illness is linked to the sexual abuse, which ever period expires later.
The opinion said schools were specifically exempted from the Government Claims Act after the enactment of SB 640 in 2009 and subsequent appellate court rulings.
“Legislative history . . . demonstrates that childhood sexual abuse claims were not intended to be subject to a claims procedure adopted by a local public entity under the Government Claims Act,’’ the opinion said.
Attorney B. Robert Allard, who has litigated civil cases on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse, said the opinion ends a loophole that some school districts had used to escape lawsuits filed by the parents of children who were sexually abused at schools.
“Thanks to Senator Beall’s continued commitment to the welfare of children who have been sexually abused, efforts are now being made to close a loophole which has been exploited by school districts in defense of childhood sexual abuse civil claims,’’ Allard said.
“Once this loophole is removed, the law that was created through California Government Code Section 905 will have full force and effect, as intended by our state’s legislature. Only then will school districts be held fully accountable for their negligence associated with the failure to protect students from pedophile employees. On behalf of all childhood sexual abuse victims in this state, a hearty “thank you” goes out to Senator Beall for continuing to fight on their behalf and ensuring that their legal rights are assured.”
Since 2012, Beall has introduced bills enabling survivors of sexual assault to obtain justice against the abusers. He has sought broader proposals to expand the civil statute of limitations to allow victims more time to file for damages and to also ban secret lawsuit settlements that serve to hide the activities of pedophiles from the public.
In 2013, Beall’s bill to require school officials to consult with law enforcement and parents before allowing a registered sex offender to volunteer at campus activities was passed and signed into law. Senate Bill 326 was introduced by Beall after a group of concerned parents whose children who were enrolled at a local schools reached out to him to register their deep concern that a convicted child molester was able to obtain the permission to participate as an unsupervised volunteer at school activities.
In 2014, his bill to create Audrie’s Law was approved and ratified to reform sentencing of juveniles convicted of sexual assault. Audrie’s Law increased courtroom transparency. It also mandated convicted juveniles to complete sex offender treatment programs if they are available in their county. In addition, juveniles convicted of rape, sodomy or oral copulation would no longer have the option of paying a fine or participating in community service or a treatment program in order for charges to be dismissed.
In the same year, Beall’s SB 926 raised the statute of limitations from age 26 to 40 for victims who were sexual abused as minors to seek criminal charges.