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The Snake Pit Theory of Liability Against Government Agencies for Sex Abuse

With the recent media attention around Pennsylvania for the Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal and the Philadelphia Archdiocese priest abuse scandal, victims of sexual abuse are finding it easier to come forward.  Sexual abuse is a form of violence which leaves incredibly deep and lasting emotional and sometimes, physical scars. Children, the elderly, and mentally handicapped or mentally ill are all common targets of sex abuse. Women and men are also victims. However, men may be less inclined to report abuse. Click here to read more about corroborating sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse is perpetrated by all people, from all walks of life and all ages. Under state and federal law, government entities can be held liable for sex abuse committed by an employee or others within an entity. For instance, sexual abuse committed by a fellow resident at a state run group home may result in state liability for the abuse. Common kinds of government entities which bear liability in these kinds of situations include:

  • schools,
  • child care centers,
  • hospitals,
  • psychiatric hospitals,
  • special needs care centers,
  • group homes,
  • juvenile detention centers,
  • prisons, and
  • government offices.

The Snake Pit Theory in a Pennsylvania or New Jersey Sexual Abuse Case Against a Government Agency

In certain situations, a state or federal agency can be liable under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Liability can extend to sexual abuse by a state or federal employee who takes an active role in creating or increasing the danger. In other words, liability extends because the government employee threw the plaintiff into a snake pit.

White v. Rochford is a 1979 7th Circuit case which coined the term “snake pit.” The court stated: “If the state puts a man in a position of danger from private people and then fails to protect him, it will not be heard to say that its role was merely passive; it is as much an active tortfeasor as if it had thrown him into a snake pit.”

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, this snake pit theory can be used to hold a government agency liable for sexual abuse and assault of an individual. For more information, contact Brian Kent, a Pennsylvania and New Jersey sex abuse lawyer and former sex crimes unit prosecutor.

More Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Legal Articles:

Sex Abuse Lawyer in Pennsylvania & New Jersey

Laffey, Bucci & Kent handles sex abuse cases in the Northeast area with offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.  Attorneys at the firm are licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Firm founder, Brian Kent, is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor with the knowledge and compassion to help victims of sex abuse face their abusers and seek justice.

The firm has the resources and experience to handle school sex abuse cases in all states and welcomes calls from local counsel about potential cases. Click To Call

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. Discussion of prior outcomes is no guarantee of same or similar results in future cases. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.