Penn State Sexual Abuse Settlements: Looking At Tennessee Law on Sexual Abuse Cases

Over the past few months, Penn State University has reached settlements with 26 victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.   For those 26 cases, the university will pay almost $60 million dollars. For many, there is confusion over why Penn State is responsible in this situation. Some assume it is simply because Jerry Sandusky was an employee of Penn State University when the abuse occurred. But that is only partly correct. 

In Tennessee, an employer is liable for the acts or omissions of its employees that are committed within the course and scope of their employment. What does "course and scope of employment" mean? Let’s assume you are involved in a car accident with a  delivery driver who was en route to make a delivery for her employer.   Because the delivery driver was performing her job responsibilities, Tennessee law provides that both the delivery driver and the employer are responsible for the accident. 

Now, let’s assume the delivery driver was making a delivery but suddenly decides to pull over and rob a convenience store while she was en route to the customer’s home. The employer company would not be responsible for the act of robbing the bank as that was not part of the delivery driver’s job responsibilities. In other words, the employer company was paying her to make deliveries, not rob banks, so the driver was outside the course and scope of his employment. Therefore, the driver’s employer is not responsible for the thief’s actions.

Now, let’s take those same principles and apply them to the Jerry Sandusky case. Certainly, Penn State University was not paying Jerry Sandusky to sexually abuse and rape young men. So then you ask: where does the liability come in? The allegations were that the President, Vice-President and Athletic Director of Penn State were aware of a 1998 sexual abuse allegation and a 2001 sexual abuse incident, but did not take appropriate action to report at least one of those incidents to police. Because Penn State University knew or should have known of Sandusky’s propensity to commit sexual abuse but did not take appropriate action to report it to authorities or otherwise stop it, Penn State is potentially liable tot the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s criminal conduct. The Penn State University case is much like the sexual abuse cases involving certain dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church. The awareness of allegations or incidences coupled with a lack of action can result in liability.

Notably, Tennessee and most other states have reporting statutes which mandate suspected child or sexual abuse be reported to the appropriate authorities.   In the next few posts, we will more closely examine sexual abuse cases as well as Tennessee’s reporting statute and the protections it provides to both the victim and the whistleblower.  

At the Law Offices of John Day, our award-winning lawyers have successfully handled sexual abuse cases against school bus drivers, camp counselors, priests, therapists, family friends and neighbors. Sexual abuse cases are emotional and often the victim is reluctant to proceed against the perpetrator. However, our experienced lawyers can guide you and your family through the process and help you recover the compensation you deserve. Tennessee law only allows you a limited time to pursue your rights in sexual abuse cases so please act promptly to protect your rights. 

To discuss a sexual abuse case in more detail, call us anytime at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787 or fill out this form and we will call you.