The legal field can seem complicated and daunting to those who do not have much experience navigating it. This may lead to confusion about who can be held liable for acts of abuse, due to factors such as age or relationship to the victim.
The most important thing to know, however: in all instances, the direct perpetrator of abuse can be sued. This is true even if the abuser is also a minor.
Minors can be sued. However, they can only be sued when an adult is appointed to look after their legal interests. The adult essentially acts as the minor’s guardian for purposes of the lawsuit filed.
A guardian, or “next friend,” can be anyone, but in most cases, it is filled by the victim’s natural mother or father. It is a temporary position, and the guardianship only lasts so long as the lawsuit itself.
Authority over the minor, unless the minor’s representative has long-term guardian status (e.g., parent), extends only to matters directly related to the conduct of the lawsuit, including decisions about settlement and working with counsel.
Very young minors may lack the capacity to understand the wrong- ness of his or her actions. Such as, “show me yours, I will show you mine” episodes in the closet. There is no bright-line rule as to when a minor becomes old enough to be legally responsible for his or her own actions.
When a minor lacks the capacity to understand the essential wrong- ness of his or her actions, responsibility for the child’s actions may extend to his caretakers.
Parents, babysitters, grandparents and others may be responsible for “negligently” failing to supervise a child, especially if the child has demonstrated any tendencies in the past.
Any type of organization can be sued when one of its employees sexually abuses a child. In rare cases the circumstances are such that the organization can be responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee, even when the acts are intentional, without engaging in any active wrongdoing.
This is what is called “respondeat superior” or vicarious liability. The employer is responsible when the employee commits a wrongful act in the course and scope of his or her employment.
Many children are put into contact with adults that neither they nor their parents know. An employer or an organization may have access to information and resources to investigate backgrounds that are underutilized. They have a responsibility to make sure their charges are not a threat to children.