Boarding & Prep School Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

A boarding school abuse lawsuit is filed when a student faces harassment, assault, inappropriate contact, or inadequate supervision while attending a boarding school. Professional treatment costs for the resultant physical and emotional trauma and mental health issues can be offset by boarding school lawsuits.

In recent years, a number of boarding school abuse sex scandals have flooded the news, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these revelations have come as a shock to parents and the public, as they originate from elite and otherwise well-respected prep schools like Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, Horace Mann in New York, and Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.

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Boarding School Sexual Abuse in the U.S.

The United States has more than 300 active boarding schools, the majority of them centered in New England and Mid-Atlantic states – especially Connecticut, Massachusetts New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York. While residential schools may seem like a thing of the past to many people, boarding schools today are seen as elite prep schools that give children an advantage toward getting into a top-tier college and setting them on a prosperous life path.

However, revelations about sexual abuse at these private schools have shattered the idea that they are helping all of their students get ahead. Some of the oldest and most respected boarding schools have found themselves the subjects of sexual abuse lawsuits. Many of these lawsuits have focused on sexual abuse by teachers, administrators, or other staff. Other legal claims have focused on sexual abuse by other students that occurred because the school allowed an abusive culture to develop and, in some cases, even thrive.

Catholic and Other Christian Boarding School Abuse

The Catholic Church has seen many sexual abuse scandals across the country and the world for decades. When it comes to Catholic boarding schools, the accusations have not been limited to sexual assault, but have also included claims around abusive practices like corporal punishment and maltreatment. At least one study has shown that Catholic school enrollment has been declining since about 2002 due to publicity around child abuse scandals.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has long followed a practice of denial and cover-up in sexual abuses cases. When evidence of abuse does makes its way to the public, such as lists of accused priests, it is often years or even decades later, making it too late for many victims to file lawsuits. This is a big part of the reason why it’s important to talk with a lawyer sooner rather and later, to make sure you can submit your legal claim before it is too late.

Native American Boarding School Abuse

Throughout history, there has been a systematic effort to remove Native American and Alaskan Native children from their communities and put them in boarding schools, many run by the Catholic Church or other religious organizations. Recent studies have shown that indigenous children who were forcibly sent to boarding school have higher rates of mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Many of these problems can be traced back to sexual and other types of abuse experienced at boarding schools. In recent years, a number of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have successfully filed lawsuits against boarding schools over the abuses they experienced, receiving compensation to use for mental health therapy, substance abuse rehabilitation, and other treatments for conditions they suffered as a result of that abuse. There are also proposals in some states, such as South Dakota, to revise the statute of limitations for Native American victims of sexual abuse at boarding schools, allowing more victims to seek justice.

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Boarding School Liability in Sexual Abuse Cases

In general, residential schools have a higher level of responsibility for the children at their institution than non-residential public and private schools. Because children are at the boarding school full time, faculty and staff are not just educators but also guardians, and as such they have a duty of care that must meet both parental and professional standards of care.

Sexual Abuse by School Faculty or Staff

Teachers, administrators, coaches, and other staff are supposed to spend their time educating and caring for children at boarding schools. Any kind of sexual activity toward a minor, including unwanted touching, verbal suggestions, or visual stimulation, is a gross violation of the trust and responsibility placed in them.

The boarding school itself can be held liable for the actions of its personnel. This is especially true if incidents of sexual abuse are reported and the school fails to properly investigate or take punitive action. The school can also be held liable if it does not implement and enforce the appropriate policies, procedures, training, and other structures to prevent such abuse.

Sexual Abuse by Other Students

Unfortunately, some sexual abuse cases at prep schools and private residential schools are perpetrated by other students. While the assaulting students may be held criminally prosecuted for their actions in many cases, the school can also be held liable in certain circumstances. Such cases may include a failure to properly supervise the students, a failure to follow up on reports of abuse or mistreatment, and the allowance or promotion of a culture that resulted in such abuse.

Sexual Abuse Reporting Requirements for Schools

All 50 U.S. states have mandatory reporting laws related to child abuse, including sexual abuse. While the specific laws may differ somewhat from state to state, every state requires teachers and school personnel to report abuse to the appropriate law enforcement authority. Because such reporting is mandatory, failing to report suspected abuse can result in criminal or civil liability.

Statutes of Limitations for Boarding School Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse laws are handled differently from state to state, and statutes of limitations can vary based on the severity of the crime (such as rape vs. misdemeanor sexual abuse). The deadlines for filing civil sexual abuse lawsuits also differ greatly from state to state. The table below provides a general overview of the statutes of limitations for child sexual assault in each state; however, you should talk to a lawyer to find out if your situation applies, since deadlines for assaults against minors can sometimes be extended (a legal determination known as “tolling”).

Statutes of Limitations by State

See Your State's Boarding School Sexual Abuse Deadline
State Statute of Limitations
Alabama 2 years after the assault
Alaska No limitation
Arizona Until the age of 20
Arkansas 3 years after discovery of the assault
California Until the age of 26 – certain circumstances may allow suits filed after 26
Colorado 20 years after the assault
Connecticut Until the age of 48
Delaware No limitation
District of Columbia Until the age of 23
Florida No limitation for assaults against children under age 16; 4 years after the assault (7 years in some circumstances) for children 16 or older
Georgia Until the age of 23
Hawaii 2 years after the assault
Idaho Until the age of 23
Illinois 10 years after discovery
Indiana By age 20, or within 5 years of obtaining DNA evidence, recorded evidence, or confession of an offense
Iowa 4 years after discovery
Kansas Until the age of 21
Kentucky Until the age of 23
Louisiana Until the age of 28
Maine No limitation
Maryland Until the age of 25
Massachusetts 35 years after the assault
Michigan 10 years after the assault
Minnesota No limitation in most cases; until the age of 24 if the abuser was under age 14 and for vicarious liability
Mississippi Until the age of 21
Missouri Until the age of 23
Montana 3 years after the assault
Nebraska Until the age of 25
Nevada Until the age of 28
New Hampshire Until the age of 30
New Jersey 2 years after discovery of the assault
New Mexico Until the age of 24
New York Until the age of 55
North Carolina Until the age of 21
North Dakota 10 years after the assault
Ohio Until the age of 30
Oklahoma Until the age of 20, or two years after discovery until the age of 40
Oregon Until the age of 25
Pennsylvania Until the age of 30
Rhode Island 7 years after the assault or discovery of the assault
South Carolina Until the age of 27
South Dakota 3 years after the assault or discovery of the assault until age 40
Tennessee Until the age of 19
Texas Until the age of 33
Vermont 6 years after the assault or discovery of the assault
Virginia Until the age of 20
Washington Until the age of 21
West Virginia Until the age of 22
Wisconsin Until the age of 20
Wyoming Until the age of 26

Boarding School Sexual Abuse FAQs

Can I Sue a Boarding School for Sexual Abuse?

Because boarding and residential schools have a high level of responsibility for the safety and security of the children who attend them, they can often be held liable for sexual abuse that happens to any child under their care.

The biggest problem people face when trying to sue a boarding school is the statute of limitations, which puts a deadline on how long people have to file a lawsuit. Every state has different deadlines, and in most cases you only have a few years during which to file a lawsuit. In many cases involving minors the deadline can be extended based on when they turn 18, but this is not automatic in every state.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault at a boarding school, it is important to speak with an attorney right away to get the process started as soon as possible. Reputable law firms will offer a free case evaluation.

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What Is the Value of a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Settlement or Verdict?

Many settlements in sexual abuse civil cases involving minors exceed $1 million, especially if the boarding school tried to suppress the abuse or failed to report it to the proper authorities. However, you should talk to a boarding school abuse lawyer to get a realistic estimation based on your specific circumstances.

There are many different factors that go into determining the amount of damages a boarding school will pay in response to a lawsuit. Some considerations include:

  • The severity, type, and duration of the abuse that occurred
  • Pain and suffering of the victim due to the acts of abuse
  • Emotional distress caused by the abuse
  • Medical expenses incurred as a result of the abuse, including psychological or emotional treatment
  • The state in which the boarding school is located

In cases that go trial and reach a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, punitive damages may also be awarded. Many states limit the amount of punitive damages for civil cases, and your attorney will be able to tell what that limit is in your case.

How Much Does It Cost to File a Boarding School Abuse Lawsuit?

Reputable law firms will not charge you up front for filing a boarding school sexual abuse lawsuit. Rather, they will receive payment from any compensation you receive, meaning that they will not get paid unless they help you get money as part of a settlement or verdict.

When talking to your lawyer as part of your free case review, he or she should explain how they get paid and what percentage they charge based on funds recovered.

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