Historic Case of Sexual Abuse: Addressing Vicarious and Independent Liability of School Board

  • March 22, 2021
  • Renata Antoniuk, DWF Toronto, and Mario Delgado, DWF Toronto

A school board was recently found vicariously liable for historical sexual abuse that the plaintiff was subjected to by her high school teacher (CO v Williamson, 2020 ONSC 3874). The teacher was also a named defendant but did not attend the trial. He had not been criminally convicted for any related offences.

The school board did not contest the plaintiff’s allegations against the teacher. The plaintiff alleged that the teacher sexually abused her when she was 16 years old on ten occasions in 1983. The abuse occurred on and off school property. The teacher took on a mentor/confidant role with the plaintiff as she confided in him about personal and family problems. He abused his position of power and trust and groomed the plaintiff to engage in sexual acts. Assault, battery, sexual assault and sexual battery were made out civilly.

The plaintiff disclosed the abuse to a co-op student counsellor who in turn reported the abuse to the principal. The principal met with the teacher and the teacher ultimately resigned.

Other than speaking with the co-op student, no further support was provided to the plaintiff. The Court found that the school board fell below the standard of care by not seeking available counselling for the plaintiff and by not even suggesting such an option to the plaintiff. The school board breached its duty owed to the plaintiff to protect her from an unreasonable risk of harm.