Earlier this week the prosecutors in the sexual abuse case against former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky filed their “Bill of Particulars,” a legal pleading that further detailed some of the allegations against Sandusky. The Bill of Particulars does not name any of the alleged victims (most childhood sexual abuse cases keep the identity of the victims private), but it does provide more information about the circumstances under which the molestation occurred.
Shockingly, 8 of the 10 victims were apparently abused on the Penn State campus, including at the Lasch Football Building, in locker rooms near Holuba Hall, at dormitories, in university showers, and at the outdoor pool in University Park. The new details raise even more questions about the role of other coaches and employees at PSU in allowing or covering up the molestation. So far, the official response from Penn State and its employees has been that they were unaware of Sandusky’s crimes, and that they could not have known about or prevented them. The new allegations, however, suggest both that others at PSU witnessed some of the crimes and raise the possibility that PSU will also be liable to the victims for, at a minimum, negligence in not keeping their property safe for visitors. In Pennsylvania, landowners have certain legal duties to others on their property, including the duty of all businesses to ensure an adequate level of safety for their business invitees.
Most commonly, this legal issue arises when a customer at a business is robbed, attacked, or sexually assaulted because the business failed to post security guards, to install video cameras, to maintain adequate lighting. Hotels are commonly found responsible for sexual assaults on their guests, because many hotels have numerous enclosed and unsecure areas in which criminal activity can occur without witnesses. In the Sandusky case, Penn State permitted Sandusky to use their facilities without any supervision, and also allowed him to bring other visitors, including children. Because Sandusky was granted access to Penn State’s campus, the children he brought with him were “invitees” of Penn State under Pennsylvania premises liability law, and thus Penn State had a duty to ensure their safety from known or foreseeable threats like Sandusky.
As attorneys who represent sexual abuse victims, it is our hope that Penn State will live up to its responsibility to these victims and will work diligently towards ensuring they receive adequate compensation for the terrible injustices they suffered as a result of the institution’s failures. We have seen far too many instances, such as with the clergy sexual abuse cases, in which defendants try to use the emotional trauma of the event against the victim by making the litigation difficult and prolonged. Just because everyone is entitled to raise a legal defense doesn’t mean that everybody should, and in this case we hope Penn State takes the high road.
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