Earlier this year, hundreds of brave women came forward to accuse Dr. George Tyndall, the former gynecologist at the University of Southern California student health center, of sexual abuse and harassment during medical appointments. Multiple women have now filed lawsuits against Dr. George Tyndall, USC, and other responsible parties in California state and federal court.
There are multiple legal theories under which victims of sexual harassment and abuse can seek to recover against their abuser and other responsible parties, such as their abuser’s employer. This post outlines the various legal claims against Dr. George Tyndall and USC, but is not a substitute for talking to an experienced California sexual harassment lawyer. Only a lawyer can give you legal advice about whether you have a case against Dr. George Tyndall or USC.
Lawsuits Against Dr. George Tyndall and USC
Many of the lawsuits being filed against Dr. George Tyndall and University of Southern California (a private university) are “class action” lawsuits. In this type of civil lawsuit, multiple plaintiffs join together to file a single complaint against a defendant or defendants.
A class action lawsuit is appropriate when a large number of people claim they were injured in a similar way by the same defendant or defendants. The plaintiffs’ claims are handled by the court at the same time. If money damages are awarded to the class of plaintiffs after a trial, it will be split between the plaintiffs. If a class action lawsuit settles before going to trial, the settlement offer will typically include compensation for all of the plaintiffs.
Claims Against Dr. George Tyndall
Some of the claims in these class action lawsuits are specific to Dr. George Tyndall. These are civil tort claims or civil statutory claims as described below.
Battery or Medical Battery
In California, the elements for civil battery are:
- Touching of the plaintiff with the intent to harm or offend;
- The plaintiff did not consent to the touching;
- The plaintiff was harmed or offended by the defendant’s conduct; and
- A reasonable person would have been offended by the touching at issue.
The survivors who have sued Dr. George Tyndall have alleged shocking conduct including inappropriate sexual touching during medical appointments. This would likely qualify as battery under California law.
Under California law, negligence has five elements.
- The defendant had a duty to act or refrain from acting in a certain way;
- The defendant breached this duty;
- The defendant’s breach of duty actually caused the plaintiff’s injury or injuries;
- The defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the injuries (which means that the injuries were reasonably foreseeable as a result of the defendant’s conduct); and
- The plaintiff suffered actual damages (such as pain and suffering or the cost of therapy).
The plaintiffs in the Dr. George Tyndall litigation are alleging negligence against the doctor.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Intentional infliction of emotional distress is another tort claim that can be brought against a sexual abuser. The elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress in California are:
- The defendant’s conduct was outrageous;
- The defendant’s conduct was either reckless or intended to cause emotional distress; and
- The plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
When numerous people come forward and make allegations of repeated bad behavior by a defendant, this evidence can be used to show intent. Survivors of sexual misconduct often suffer severe emotional distress, and filing a lawsuit is one way to recover compensation for the pain and suffering they have endured as a result of the perpetrator’s abusive behavior.
Under California Civil Code Section 51.9, a victim of sexual harassment can file a civil claim against the perpetrator where the victim had one of several specific types of relationships to the defendant. The elements of a claim under this statute are:
- A business or professional relationship between the plaintiff and defendant (such as a doctor-patient relationship);
- The defendant has made sexual advances, solicitations, sexual requests, demands for sexual compliance by the plaintiff, or engaged in other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or of a hostile nature based on gender, that were unwelcome and pervasive or severe;
- The plaintiff cannot easily terminate the relationship with the defendant; and
- The plaintiff suffered economic harm or personal injury (such as pain and suffering) as a result of the defendant’s behavior.=
Because Dr. George Tyndall had a doctor-patient relationship with the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at the USC student health clinic, this type of claim may be brought against him.
Claims Against USC
In addition to the claims against Dr. George Tyndall, the class action lawsuits include claims against the University of Southern California. USC is a private college (not a public university managed by the state), which means that it is treated like any other private employer under the law. In cases of alleged institutional sexual abuse like this one, it is critical to hold the abuser’s employer responsible for failing to put a stop to the abusive behavior.
Negligent Hiring, Supervision, and Retention of Employee
Where a plaintiff can show that an employer defendant knew or should have known that an employee it hired was unfit for their job and created a risk for others and/or that it failed to terminate this employee when it learned of the unfitness, the employer can be held liable under a “negligent retention” theory.
To prevail on this theory, the plaintiffs in the Dr. George Tyndall lawsuit will need to present evidence that the University of Southern California was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct taking place at its student health clinic and nevertheless retained Dr. George Tyndall as a university employee.
This claim relates to how USC allegedly responded when complaints began to surface regarding Dr. George Tyndall’s behavior at the student health clinic. Some plaintiffs in the Dr. George Tyndall lawsuits have alleged that USC made fraudulent misrepresentations to students by representing that the gynecologist had not engaged in any inappropriate behavior.
Victims of Sexual Abuse and Harassment Have Legal Rights
If you were a student at the University of Southern California and believe you were sexually abused or harassed by Dr. George Tyndall, our California sexual harassment lawyers can help. To talk to a sexual harassment lawyer at GJELL about your legal options, call 866-293-9364 or fill out this form and someone from our office will contact you soon.
Sexual Abuse on College Campuses