Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

$300M Locker Room Peeping Lawsuit Alleges Child Abuse / Privacy Issues

Lessons to be learned about managing locker rooms to prevent child abuse and invasion of privacy

The class-action lawsuit filed in S.C. State Court alleges that Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina knowingly allowed windows for staff viewing of students inside the boy’s and girls’ gym locker rooms. The windows were apparently installed in 1998 when Bishop England opened their new campus. After 21 years, an undisclosed number of former and some current students spoke out against the school, which is under the oversight of the Diocese Of Charleston. The list of defendants includes not only Bishop England and the Diocese of Charleston but also Bishop Robert Guglielmone. Bishop Guglielmone recently retired in May of 2019 at the age of 75.

This case is illustrative for the youth sports clients of Sadler Sports Insurance that have locker rooms and changing rooms either on owned or leased premises or at other premises. Note that the definition of child abuse includes non-touching offenses such as voyeurism and the photographing of minors for sexual purposes when they have an expectation of privacy. There can be a fine line between the duty to monitor and prevent bullying and hazing versus sexual misconduct. The U.S. Center for SafeSport has published guidelines for locker rooms and changing areas which maximizes privacy and child abuse protection for athletes by not allowing a continuous presence by staff inside of locker rooms. Instead, staff should be located directly outside of locker rooms and should be on call if a problem arises but periodic sweeps are encouraged.

Public knowledge emerges from voyeurism charge against school employee with window overlooking locker rooms

Public knowledge first emerged in 2019 when the school’s sports information director, Jeffrey Alan Scofield, was arrested for voyeurism. The employee told detectives that his office window overlooked the boys’ locker room, and he set up his phone between the windows and blinds for video recording. He then downloaded the videos onto a school computer. The employee was subsequently fired, convicted of voyeurism, and sentenced to time served plus 18 months probation along with being listed under the state’s sexual offender registry with a requirement to seek mental health counseling.

Defendants sued for $300 million for invasion of privacy and sexually abusive actions

The lawsuit alleges that Bishop England engaged in “dishonest, deceptive and sexually abusive actions” when it failed to protect students. The charges include invasion of privacy, various acts of negligence, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment. The Diocese publicly denounced the accusation as having absolutely no merit stating thehigh school sued for $300 million for viewing windows in locker room windows were in place merely to supervise students to prevent smoking, bullying, fighting, and other improper behavior. The plaintiffs are asking for $300 million in damages. Larry Richter, a previous graduate of the high school in the 1960s, is the attorney handling the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. Richter enacted a previous class-action case against the Diocese of Charleston. He won a $12 million settlement on the grounds of child sexual abuse.

Since 1998, students undressed in front of coaches who had access to the windows. Richter claims the school did nothing for years to get rid of the windows. He further questions why they were ever installed in the first place.

Since the filing of the lawsuit, Bishop England has subsequently boarded over the windows and replaced them with a brick wall.

Trainings and procedures to protect students from child sexual abuse

Bishop England firmly states that they have all the proper procedures and screenings in place for new employees. The school requires all new staff to:

  • Pass a background check
  • Attend child abuse prevention training
  • Attend student boundary training
  • Sign a code of conduct overseeing how they interact with minors

Huge number of potential sex abuse victims from locker room setting

But despite these requirements and trainings, child abuse allegedly still occurred. With 687 students in the student-body, Bishop Englandsexually abusive locker room windows, high school sued High School is the largest Catholic high school in the state. Over the course of 21 years, the number of students victim to peering is theoretically in the thousands. The number gets even larger. Richter states that visiting athletes from other schools shared the locker rooms as well.

How this case applies to youth sports organizations that use locker rooms and changing areas

While this lawsuit’s subject matter occurred in the school setting, youth sports participants are subject to the same types of invasion of privacy and sexual abuse. Child abuse is not limited to just inappropriate touching. The definition of illegal child abuse is quite broad and includes voyeurism and inappropriately videotaping youth in various states of undress.

In the past, youth sports administrators keyed in solely on criminal background checks to protect their youth from predators. The problem with putting all the eggs in the background check basket is that the vast majority of predators don’t have a detectable criminal background. 

Therefore, merely running background checks is not enough to protect youth. The Safe Sport Act requires sports organizations at a minimum to provide:

  • Mandatory educational training of adult staff and volunteers with access to youth. This should include defining the various forms of child abuse including no touching offenses such as voyeurism and how to handle locker room and changing room settings.
  • Offer minor training at the discretion of the parent/guardian
  • Implement policies and procedures to reduce the chances of an incident
  • Report suspicions to local law enforcement within 24 hours
  • Prohibit retaliation for whistleblowers

Sadler Sports Insurance offers free child abuse risk management content

Be sure to check out our free child abuse/molestation risk management content which includes the industry-leading blog on the Safe Sport Act, child abuse risk management templates, types of criminal background checks, and sources of criminal background checks. The document entitled Sadler Safe Sport Child Abuse and Other Misconduct Risk Management Plan includes a section on how to manage locker rooms and changing areas.


Sources:

Caitlin Byrd. SC’s largest Catholic high school sued for $300M for invasive locker room windows. The State. February 4, 2021.

Drew Tripp. Bishop England, Diocese of Charleston sued for $300M over student exploitation claims. ABC News 4. February 4, 2021.

Catherine Kohn and Kenna Coe. $300 million lawsuit filed against Bishop England High School. Moultrie News. February 4, 2021.

 

School and Booster Club Blame Game Over Athlete Death

Lack of risk management leads to costly legal battle

The family of Joshua Mileto is seeking $15 million in damages following his fatal accident on the campus of Sachem East High School in Long Island. The suit names and alleges equal blame to both the school district and school’s booster club.

Mileto, 16, died when a log fell on his head during a summer camp exercise. He and four other players were carrying the 400-lb. log during an off-season football camp drill. The attorney for the Miletos said the suit names both parties because of the vague relationship between the two. The Sachem East Touchdown Club is registered as a nonprofit.

It remains to be seen whether coaches at the camp will also be named in the suit. Apparently, it isn’t clear yet for whom the coaches were working, the school or the booster club. Both entities played a role in running the preseason camp. The Miletos’ attorney stated the drill was too dangerous for boys that age and size.

If the school can prove it didn’t employ the coaches for the purposes of the camp, it may not have any liability, according to Michael Duffy, an attorney not involved in the case.  Michael Kaplen, a law professor a George Washington University, isn’t aware of any cases where a school district tried to shift blame onto a booster club. It would be difficult to do so, he said, because the camp took place on school property. That’s tantamount to a school district endorsement of the camp.

How schools can protect themselves

The New York State Education Department points to section 414 of education law, advising schools to not treat booster clubs as an extension of the district. The law states that the school should establish policies for use of the property that “provide for the safety and security of the pupils.”

At Sadler Insurance, we advise all facility owners, including school districts, to have an agreement clarifying the roles of the facility owner and facility user. This should include insurance requirements and an indemnification/hold harmless provision in favor of the facility owner. For more information, see Insurance for Facility Users of Recreation Departments and Schools.


Source: Jim Baumbach, Michael O’Keeffe. “Sachem East football player lawsuit would look to establish blame,” newsday.com. 09 Sept. 2017.

Benching of Youth Participants and Resulting Lawsuits

Parents who pay want their child to play

It’s not yet what you’d call a trend, but there’s certainly an uptick in the number of parents filing lawsuits to get their child off the bench and onto the playing field.

Parents put out big bucks in registrations fees, equipment and travel costs associated with high school and youth club and travel teams, to say nothing of the time they invest attending practices and traveling to games. Many parents sacrifice their time and money for their children hoping to get the attention of college coaches, earn scholarships, and improve chances of college admissions – or even advance a professional athletic career. So, it’s understandable that some are dissatisfied when their child rides the bench more than he or she plays. In other words, they expect a payoff for their investment.

There is also an increase in lawsuits by parents of children who have been cut from teams, injured, disciplined by coaches or penalized by officials. But is hiring an attorney the answer? Many are questioning not only the attitude of entitlement, but how the children, who generally play for the fun and camaraderie, are affected by such lawsuits. What are the children learning when parents step in so heavily handed to smooth the way? Will they learn they’re entitled to play on a team simply because they attend practice? And are parents setting these athletes up to be bullied by other team members?

The increasingly competitive nature of youth sports has helped shift many parents’ focus from fun, exercise and sportsmanship to an investment in their children’s academic and professional futures. Youth sports officials are watching the case of a 16-year-old volleyball player. The girl earned spot on a volleyball league but ended up on the bench, so her parents filed suit against the volleyball association, alleging it won’t let the girl play or to switch teams, per the contract she signed.

General Liability policies, which typically only respond to certain lawsuits alleging bodily injury or property damage, don’t cover these types of lawsuits that allege loss of college scholarship or loss of pro career. Such lawsuits generally require a Professional Liability endorsement on a General Liability policy or a stand alone Professional Liability policy.


Source: Tracey Schelmetic, sportsdestinations.com, 21 Apr. 2015.

AEDs and Liability in Public Schools

Will sympathy impact legislation?   

Too many communities have grieved debilitating injuries or premature deaths of high school athletes due to cardiac events. Many schools maintain automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in an effort to prevent such tragedies.

 There are no federal mandates regarding AEDs in public schools. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa , Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin have passed legislation requiring some schools to maintain portable defibrillators.  California and Tennessee encourages placement in public schools.

But a debate has started over whether public schools can be held liable if the AEDs are not used. This stems from a lawsuit that will go before the Florida Supreme Court sometime this year.

What set the ball in motion

When an East County High School soccer player collapsed on the field, school personnel called 911 and performed CPR while waiting for emergency responders. The AED on campus was not utilized. Although paramedics were able to revive the student with a defibrillator and medication, he suffered severe brain damage and is in a vegetative state.

 The lawsuit argues that that the school district is liable. Lower courts found in favor of the school district, acknowledging that the school is legally obligated to try to help any student who becomes injured or ill on school grounds but not to authorize or direct specific treatment such as the use of an AED.

Florida ruling could have huge impact

If the Florida Supreme Court overturns the lower court ruling, there is potential for every youth sports facility or program to be affected. This includes both public and private facilities and programs, such as those run by school districts, local and state governments, parks and universities.

If this occurs, the next question will be whether AED training will be required of paid and volunteer coaches, referees, and organizers or risk being sued in the event of an episode such as the one in the current suit. And will these organizations be required to purchase other medical devices and provide training to avoid liability? And, of course, this could affect the cost of Liability Insurance, as typically is the case when claims are made.


Source: Mark Miller and Deborah J. LaFetra, “Fla. Lawsuit Set to Define Schools’ Legal Duty to Use AEDs,” Tampa Tribune.  16 Apri 2014

School Facility Use Liabilities

Sadler partners with schools and districts to assist in lowering liability risks

There are critical aspects of risk management for organizations that permit the use of their facility to outside groups. The video below offers detailed information on the following:

  • Why facility user groups expose schools to a huge liability potential.
  • Why users such as camps, teams, leagues, special event operators, and tournaments must carry their own insurance.
  • Why not just any insurance will adequately protect schools.
  • How to set reasonable minimum insurance standards to shield the school’s own liability insurance from paying unnecessary claims
  • Provides a specific webpage that is a reputable source of high limit, high coverage sports insurance to which facility users can be referred to INSTANTLY bind coverage and issue certificates of insurance naming school as Additional Insured.
  • How we can set up your school/school district on our automatic certificate of insurance issuance system to meet your special wording requirements every time. Nothing is more frustrating than having to tell a facility user that their insurance does not meet your requirements.
  • All of the above speeds the process and reduces hassle and frustration for all parties involved.

Insurance Requirements for Rec Facility Users

Reduce liability exposure with proper collection of certificates of insurance

Facility user groups such as teams, leagues, tournament hosts, camps, instructors, and special event operators must carry adequate insurance. In addition to providing the proper coverage, Sadler Sports Insurance can assist you in reducing your liability by:

    • setting minimum insurance limits and coverage standards that adequately protect the recreation department
    • providing a simple free checklist tool to assist in verifying insurance compliance
    • referring uninsured facility users to a specific web page where they can get an instant quote,  instantly pay, and bind coverage  without any delays or hassles. Their delays and hassles become your delays and hassles.
    • setting your recreation department up in our system so that the certificates of insurance meet your special wording requirements every time, which cuts down on your frustration over certificates that don’t meet your requirements.

The video below walks you through the process in more detail.