• JC Serrano

Civil Claims for Injuries from Child Abuse and Neglect in California

Updated: Apr 26

The civil case you can file for past or current child abuse and negligence.


Child Abuse and Neglect is a particularly distressing topic, mainly because children are often defenseless and highly dependent on adults. If the adults in their lives cause them harm, they likely have so little way out. If a child's parents abuse them, it's hard for them to imagine where else they'll go. If their caretaker or babysitter hurt them, it's their word versus the adult caretakers' who may be able to brush things off as a child's dramatic imagination.


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How to Spot the Signs (As an Adult making Observations)


Child abuse may also be detected by people who have regular contact with the child, such as neighbors, teachers, pediatricians, therapists, or the police. Bruises, bruises, broken bones, and burns — particularly repeated injuries that the child refuses to explain or for which the child gives an unusual explanation — are all signs of child abuse


Poor grooming, an untidy appearance, a lack of weather-appropriate clothes, excessive exhaustion or hunger, repeated illnesses, or school absences are all signs of neglect. Children who are overly withdrawn, afraid, recoil from touch, or show a desire to return home should be given special attention.


Abuse may also be detected by emotional outbursts or inappropriate babyish activity. Many of these symptoms are also indicators of sexual assault. Abnormal shame, insufficient sexual sensitivity, or sexually suggestive conduct are all signs that a child has been sexually abused.

Many of the symptoms listed may be due to something else, such as hyperactivity that leads to impulsive actions, envy or frustration at a new baby in the house, and autism spectrum disorder, marital strife in the household, a death in the family, or any number of other factors.


Here's a more simplified checklist:


(Note that these are just common red flags that parents, legal guardians, or friends have noticed in children. One symptom might account for more than one type of abuse, but it's best to look out for them when you're suspicious.)


  • Unexplained bruising

  • Bruises are explained away by either the child or perpetrator, but some of which are contradictory or missing details

  • Ligature or bite marks, pressure marks from fingers on the face, stomach, or back

  • burns that look suspicious

  • Avoiding returning home (particularly if the abuser is in the family home)

  • Escaping or living at friends' houses on a regular basis

  • Fear of the dark, aversion to going to bed, bedwetting, or nightmares is all common symptoms.

  • Stealing or lying

  • Bad self-image/self-esteem, poor academic performance, and poor peer relationships are low self-esteem signs.

  • Behavior that is secretive, demanding, or destructive.

  • Delay in progress

  • Prone to falling ill

  • A sickly or sallow look/appearance

  • Stealing or hoarding food, abnormally high appetite

  • Unkempt or unhygienic


Whatever the reasons for suspicion, it is never reasonable to presume child abuse and then do nothing about it. It is preferable to take an unnecessary risk than to see a child suffer. Even if a member of your own family perpetrated the abuse, it is still the right thing to do if you think your child has been abused and has sustained physical or psychological harm.


Who Can Be Held Liable?


Many children are advised to be wary of strangers from an early age, but the vast majority of child sex abuse cases include someone the child knew. Family members, neighbors, coaches, priests, babysitters, teachers, or someone else who has regular contact with the child may be perpetrators.


This may include the following:

  • Churches and Schools

  • Daycare centers

  • Clubs for athletes

  • America's Boy and Girl Scouts

  • Camps for teenagers

  • Hospitals are a form of a healthcare facility.


Child Violence may take the form of any of the following:

  • Another person intentionally inflicts physical harm on a child.

  • Willful harm, endangering the child's health, or sexual harassment, assault, or exploitation.

  • Inhumane corporal punishment or trauma caused by injury.

  • Threats of treating the child like ones mentioned above.


It's important to remember that we're all responsible for protecting any child who might be neglected or abused. Although teachers, counselors, clinicians, coaches, religious figures, and those who frequently supervise children are held to a higher standard in terms of disclosing adult mistreatment of children, everyone who has reasonable suspicion of being responsible for a child being abused or neglected is legally obliged to report the abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities.


Defining it in California Law Terms


There are four major categories of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA):


Physical abuse - This occurs when an infant or bay is hurt – from bruises to broken bones to brain injury to death – due to physical abuse such as punching, kicking, shaking, throwing, or beating, regardless of purpose.


Emotional abuse - This is characterized as a pattern of care that harms a child's emotional development over time. This may include denying love or encouragement, threats, harsh criticism, or confining the child unnecessarily.


Child Neglect - Is the failure to adequately supervise or care for a child, failure to fulfill a child's basic needs, exposing or subjecting a child to domestic abuse, and failure to provide education or make provisions for a child's special educational needs are all examples of child neglect.


Sexual Abuse - Persuading, tricking, or coercing a child to participate in or assist with sexual activity, such as rape, child trafficking, indecent exposure, or exploitation of a child through the creation of pornographic materials.


California Laws


On Physical Abuse


Child physical abuse can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 273d(a). Still, it's highly subjective to the circumstances and criminal background of the defendant. "Any person who intentionally inflicts on a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an accident resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of a felony," according to California Penal Code Section 273d. If the punishment was not considered "cruel" or inhumane or did not put the child in a stressful situation, it could be reduced to a misdemeanor or charged as a misdemeanor.


On Child Neglect


Child neglect is described in California Penal Code Section 11165.2 as "the negligent or maltreatment of a child by an individual responsible for the child's welfare when there is a risk of harm to the child's health or welfare. The definition encompasses both the responsible person's behavior and omissions."


California law divides this into two categories: severe neglect and general neglect:


When defendants fail to protect the child or children, they are responsible for extreme malnutrition or "medically induced failure to survive," they are charged with severe neglect. Severe neglect may also be described as knowingly causing or permitting the child to be put in a position where his or her health is jeopardized.


An individual responsible for the care or custody of a child commits general neglect when he or she fails to provide the child with appropriate clothing, food, medical care, shelter, and supervision. There must not have been any physical damage to the child for a crime to be defined as general neglect rather than extreme neglect.


On Sexual Abuse


Child sexual abuse covers any interaction with a child's genitals other than for purely legitimate medical reasons, any contact with the child's genitals or intimate parts for any sexual purposes, and any sexual activity performed in the presence of a child, according to California Penal Code Section 11165.1.


Anyone who promotes, approves, facilitates, helps, or aids a child in engaging in prostitution, a live production of obscene sexual content, or posing for the portrayal of obscene sexual content, whether or not they are responsible for the child's welfare, may be charged with sexual exploitation.


Sanctions, Penalties for Perpetrators


The nature of the crime and the injuries sustained on the child determine whether the crime is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, which is dependent on the nature of the crime and the injuries inflicted on the child. The violence that results in a "traumatic disorder" is a crime, with sentences ranging from two to six years in prison under Penal Code Section 273d.


However, if this is the second time you've been convicted of the same offense, your sentence could be lengthened by four years. Suppose the child dies, enters a comatose state, or suffers permanent paralysis as a result of the violence. In that case, the abuser faces a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison under California Penal Code Section 273ab.


Child sexual exploitation is a crime under California Penal Code Section 288, with sentences ranging from three to eight years in state prison. This sentence is increased to five, eight, or ten years if the crime is committed through the use of force, assault, or other forms of coercion. A fine of up to $10,000 can also be levied, and the convicted person may be obligated to register as a sex offender for the rest of his or her life under California Penal Code Section 290.


When child abuse is classified as a misdemeanor, the penalty can include up to one year in county jail, along with a fine.

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How and What to Report


While the Department of Children and Family Services encourages anyone to report alleged child abuse and neglect, no occupations are required by law to do so.


While the reporter's identity should be kept secret, a name should be provided so that the department can follow up with the reporter if necessary.

For allegations of alleged child abuse or neglect made in good faith, the one who reports a case is exempt from civil and criminal liability.

What kind of information should be shared?

  • The precise nature of the incident(s) you're reporting

  • Injuries or threats; their dates and descriptions

  • The identity of the perpetrator(s) and their relationship(s) with the child

  • The child's current location

  • The child's current situation

  • Any physical evidence that is available should be described in detail.

  • Present access to the infant by the attacker

  • Witnesses to the incident and how to get in touch with them

  • When possible, comments from the child/children

Every state has a separate agency or department that collects and investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. Child protective services (CPS) under a Department of Social Services or a Department of Human Resources is normally in charge of this.


Failure to report child abuse will result in fines, prison time, and being held liable in a civil case for the injured child's physical injury, disability, pain and suffering, medical costs, and potential lost earnings.


An Example of Failing to Report A Case


Ethical and legal standards require physicians to maintain patient confidentiality, but this is not an absolute requirement. Confidentiality can be broken ethically when the patient's or a third party's safety is in jeopardy or when the law requires it. There are several legislative and court-ordered exceptions to maintaining patient confidentiality.


By rule, physicians must report communicable diseases, quarantine or isolate patients, and report alleged violent acts such as gunshot wounds. By requiring physicians to break confidentiality, they are forced to behave as state agents rather than solely as agents of the patient. Physicians work on behalf of third parties or the general public in all of these reporting positions. On the other hand, some of the reports represent the patient directly, and failure to report may result in legal action on behalf of the patients who claim to have been harmed.


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