By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a school board can be held responsible in child abuse cases against employees if schools fail to report earlier abuse by the same perpetrator.
While the ruling focused on abuse cases in schools, the decision has far-reaching implications involving anyone required under state law to report abuse, say attorneys involved in the case.
Those implications could range from an increase in lawsuits as victims search out anyone who failed to report abuse by an alleged perpetrator, to holding people responsible for abuse suffered by children they may never have known or talked to.
"The public policy behind the decision is admirable," attorney Lynnette Ballato said. "However, the law typically does not hold third parties liable for injuries to individuals with whom they have not had direct contact."
Ballato's firm represented the Ohio Association of Civil Trial Attorneys in urging the court to rule in favor of school districts. The association consists of lawyers who defend civil lawsuits.
The court's 5-2 decision came in the case of a Mansfield couple who sued after their 15-year-old daughter was sexually abused by a high school teacher and coach in February 2000. The coach was fired and convicted of sexual battery, according to Wednesday's court ruling.
The couple said Mansfield city schools was negligent because it had failed to report an alleged abuse case involving the same teacher three years earlier.
The district never reported that abuse, believing the girl was lying, records show.
The district argued that the more recent abuse case did not meet an exception under state law for when public entities can be sued. The 5th Ohio District Court of Appeals agreed, saying the district could have been sued only in the first case and would have been immune to lawsuits by subsequent victims of the same perpetrator.
Wednesday's ruling says the law was never meant to cover only one case of abuse and not to apply to other abuse by the same person.
The ruling upheld the obligation to report child abuse, said Robert Vecchio, a lawyer representing the girl and her parents.
The law "was designed not only to protect the one child, but to protect anybody else who may be the victim of that same abuser," he said.
Catholics try to reconcile faith and political choices
Catholics speak out on politics and religion
Pilarczyk deflects sacrament issue
Take 3: 'Cops' invited back to city
'Cops' cameras roll in Covington
Our spelling 'shuud be lojical,' protesters cry
Students inspired by war, service
IN THE TRISTATE
Drake Center request gets divided reaction
Students learn de-stress method
Reserves head back to Iraq
State court widens liability for abuse
Close 2 centers for disabled, panel urges
Video gambling effort likely to fail
Pleasant Ridge mobilizes
Pot bust nets 164 pounds, two arrests
Public safety briefs
Morning music comes to Lebanon
Businesses pledge help if art school will move
Fernald cleanup fails powder test
Fees would pay for growth
Recreation center still perplexes West Chester
Brother gets four-year term in fatal shooting of sister
Good Things Happening
Bronson: Storm alert: Run for it! Enstupidation
Crowley: NKU tuition hike needs a perspective
Robert Dehan led company despite illness
Homes plan clears hurdle
Kentucky news briefs
Fletcher wants suit suspended
Nine abused kids needed her, nine times she took them in
Neighbors help to buy funeral for slain man
Plea averts trial
Talks proceed on diploma equivalent for dropouts