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Who is Liable for Athlete Sexual Abuse?

— December 7, 2022

Being sexually abused as an athlete can cause lifelong physical and emotional damage.

Athletes are famously committed to their performance. However, when an athlete is suffering sexual abuse, it can be hard for them to continue with the sport that was once a top priority.

The emotional distress of being used and the physical and financial toll can stop athletes from competing at a high level and progressing in the sport. Sometimes, legal action is the only way that athletes can regain their passion and purpose while protecting their safety.

Who is Liable for Athlete Sexual Abuse?

Depending on the circumstances under which the abuse occurred, one or multiple parties may be liable. Identifying the at-fault party can be a complicated process. However, an athlete sexual abuse lawyer can help you build a strong case against the responsible person or organization.

Team Organizations

To some extent, team culture is influenced by the athletes who play for the team. Athletes in sports with a high degree of physical contact are more likely to be abused by a team member than those in other sports. However, groups of less physically active people may still create an unsafe environment through unethical practices such as bullying.

Team culture may be less known to legal firms, judges, and opposing counsel members than it is among athletes. Many survivors of abuse are unaware that they are in a potentially unsafe situation until they hear about it years later.

Individual Organizations

The organization itself may have created a dangerous environment for the athlete by failing to act on reports of abuse, allowing the abuser to continue working with them, or moving ahead with an investigation even though there was no evidence that abuse occurred. The organization has a legal duty to protect its athletes from harm and is likelier to be affected by a lawsuit.

The organization is liable for any damages awarded if the allegation is true. The organization may try to pay a smaller settlement or reduce the amount of their liability by claiming that they thought that athlete was isolated from the event, but this makes them appear callous toward their athletes.

Individual Coaches

Camp counselors, coaches, and coaches who hold authority over their young victims commit many instances of abuse. These individuals are often considered the “go-to person” for advice and support.

They have access to a child when other adults are not present. As a result, coaches must educate themselves about their legal and ethical responsibilities concerning athletes before they are placed in such a position of authority.

Individual Disciplinarians

After a sexual assault, it can take athletes years to come forward and disclose what happened. During that time, the athlete is often silent about the abuse and may not talk about it, even when asked during therapy or in conversations with family members.

It is easy for an organization to ignore information an athlete provides without any sign of abuse or when it receives a report that contradicts or is inconsistent with previous reports. If there is a pattern of settlement agreements and other evidence that the organization was aware of problems on a team level and chose not to act, it will be harder to defend against charges.

Lawsuit Funding

A lawsuit against a team or organization requires personal and financial sacrifice. Athletes may need to spend money and time attending court dates, depositions, trials, and other hearings. It may disrupt their schedules due to this. Litigation funding may be an option for athletes whose organizations failed to protect them from abuse.

The responsibilities of team organizations, individual organizations, and other individuals who work with athletes may overlap. They may be liable to the athlete for their injury if they all have similar legal duties. One organization or individual may have access to more evidence or have other advantages that make their liability easier to establish than that of others.

More Athletes Come Forward with Allegations Against Strauss, Ohio State
Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash

An Athlete Sexual Abuse Lawyer Can Help You Prove Liability

The legal profession is designed to protect the rights of their clients, which means that lawyers take on big risks when they defend people who sue others for wrongs or injuries caused by their alleged misconduct.

When an athlete sues an organization, coach, or other individuals for abuse committed by a member of the organization’s staff, the legal team will have to talk with the judge and opposing counsel about what evidence can be admitted and which witnesses are allowed to testify.

Being sexually abused as an athlete can cause lifelong physical and emotional damage. Victims of sexual abuse can be paralyzed from the trauma, unable to continue with their sport, and fall into a depression that requires treatment. Athletes need to understand what is at stake for them in a lawsuit so that they may decide how to proceed.

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