What if the Person Who Sexually Abused Me in New York is Dead?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

New York law allows sexual abuse victims to come forward many years after the abuse.  Child victims who were sexually abused by priests, teachers, or other individuals might be able to file a claim to help them seek justice after they’ve already reached adulthood and learned more about what happened to them as a child.  However, many abuse victims find that the person they would sue for abuse has died.  The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s institutional sexual abuse victim lawyer explains how you can still file your case and fight to seek justice even if your abuser has passed away by seeking damages from an institution responsible for the abuse.

Can I Sue a Dead Abuser in New York for Past Abuse?

New York law does allow lawsuits to be filed against deceased individuals.  In general, claims against a person survive their death, and you can file the claim against their estate instead.  This means suing the collection of money and assets they left behind – and the defense will be put forth by their next of kin or the administrator of their estate instead.

In many cases, there are complex rules that might make these cases difficult.  Fortunately, instead of relying on their estate, you can also usually seek damages from an institution that they worked for if the institution contributed to your abuse.

Suing an Institution for Sexual Abuse by a Deceased Abuser in New York

In many cases of sexual abuse, especially sexual abuse against a minor, there is some entity or institution that should have done better to keep the child safe.  Catholic Church sexual abuse cases in New York have accused the Church of improperly handling many instances of abuse, and similar sexual abuse claims against scouting organizations, schools, camps, and other institutions have also faced abuse allegations.  In many of these cases, the institution can be held liable for the abuses alongside the individual who abused you, even if the abuser has since died.

When you sue an institution like a church, school, or business for sexual abuse, its employee can be sued directly and the employer can be asked to answer for their damages.  The legal doctrine that allows this is known as “respondeat superior” and is commonly used to hold an employer responsible for its employee’s negligence or abuse.  However, the abuse or negligence in question must have occurred during the scope of the employee’s job for this to work.  That means that if a teacher abused you outside of school while not participating in any school activities, this system of vicarious liability might not work.  However, if a teacher committed acts of abuse while a child was under their supervision as part of their work, then the court might be able to hold the school liable for the abuse.

Alternatively, schools, churches, camps, and other organizations can be held liable for their own mistakes and abuses.  In sexual abuse cases against Catholic priests, the church’s local leaders are often accused of shuffling around priests to hide abuse, and they have knowledge of credible allegations and are complicit in allowing abuse to continue.  In some cases, the abuse is just as much the institution’s fault as is the individual’s fault.

Courts might also be able to hold institutions responsible for mistakes and negligence that do not reach the level of complicity.  In many cases, abuse or sexual abuse is reported, but investigations are improperly handled.  Alternatively, mistakes may be made in background checks or interviews that fail to route out potential dangers in employees.  In these cases, the institution is held responsible for its negligence instead, paying for whatever share of the harm they caused.

Who Pays for Institutional Sexual Abuse when the Abuser is Dead in New York?

In many cases where the individual abuser and an institution can both be held accountable for the abuse you suffered as a child, who pays for damages is a second legal issue for your sexual abuse victims lawyer to tackle.  The individual abuser can usually be held accountable, but if they are deceased, then their estate can be made to pay their damages instead.  If the institution is found partly at fault as a co-defendant, they can be made to pay as well.

In cases where the institution is held liable as the employer of the abusive employee, the institution can often be made to pay the full damages.  Under vicarious liability rules, this can help a victim get full compensation from the institution even if their abuser is dead.

In other cases, the court might assign partial fault to each party, and they will pay damages proportional to their share of fault.  In cases where the institution knew of the abuse, acted to cover it up, and was complicit in it continuing, it might be impossible to separate the institution’s fault from the individual abuser’s fault.  In some of these cases, the court will find the defendants “jointly and severally liable.”  This can allow the court to order the institution to pay damages since they can afford the full cost.  Then, the institution can seek contribution from the deceased abuser’s estate to pay them back for some of the costs.

If the court firmly decides that the institution’s negligence means they only share a certain percentage of fault in causing the abuse, the court might order them to pay only their own damages.  In that case, you might have to get paid partly from the abuser’s estate and partly from the institution.

If You Were the Victim of Abuse or Sexual Misconduct in New York State and that Person is Now Dead, Call Our Lawyers for a Free Case Consultation

If you found out that your abuser died, you might still be entitled to file a lawsuit against their estate and against the institution or organization that contributed to your abuse.  For help with your case, call our childhood sexual abuse victims lawyer at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin today at (814) 826-3586.  Our attorney offers free, confidential consultations.


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