Penn State’s sex abuse matter is not just criminal but civil, too

No one ever wants to face the possible reality that even one child was victimized at the hands of someone whom he trusted. The Pennsylvania community, along with the whole nation, is in the midst of grappling with the allegation that its beloved football coach Joe Paterno knew about sexual abuse of a child but wasn’t aggressive enough to try to stop it.

Last week, the unsettling story came out that Pennsylvania State University’s former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky turned himself into authorities following a leaked report that he had committed sexual abuse against a child. It’s easy to simply see this as a serious criminal case, but there are also personal injury elements at play within this high-profile legal matter.

We most often share stories about traffic accidents or medical malpractice on this blog, but this Penn State story provides an opportunity to explore the true scope of what personal injury lawsuits can cover.

Generally, a wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit is filed if supposed plaintiffs and their attorneys believe that an injury was preventable. Take a car accident, for example. If a driver was driving under the influence and speeding when he crashed into and killed a victim, a family could sue him for negligence and potentially receive monetary damages for their loss.

Criminal convictions and sentencing don’t offer families or personal injury victims compensation for an injury or loss caused by offenders’ carelessness. In the above car accident scenario, the driver could be criminally convicted of drunk driving and homicide, but those convictions would not directly support victims’ needs for civil damages. That is why offenders will often face civil lawsuits, along with criminal charges.

Carelessness and preventable injury are valuable points to highlight with regards to the Penn State sex abuse allegations. Just as a drunk driver’s carelessness can lead to life-changing injury, sexual abuse can also lead to preventable physical and emotional injuries among victims.

At least one supposed sex abuse victim is considering suing Sandusky and probably various other parties who reportedly knew about the former coach’s actions but did not do enough or anything to stop his alleged abuse. In terms of a civil lawsuit, not reporting suspected sex abuse could be classified as carelessness that contributed to a supposed abuse victim’s injuries.

This case will undoubtedly remain at the center of the media spotlight for a while. Some have a theory that more victims will continue to come forward and accuse Sandusky of abuse. We will follow the matter and report when there is an update related to civil charges.


ABC News: “Judge Who Set No Bail for Penn State Sex Abuse Suspect Volunteered for Him,” Colleen Curry and Kevin Dolak, Nov. 14, 2011

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *