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A Voice for Victims
MacLaren Hall Sex Abuse in Los Angeles
MacLaren Hall, also called Mac Hall, was an institution for children. In 2003, it closed in disgrace, and some of its former inhabitants began speaking out about sexual abuse at the facility.
What is MacLaren Hall?
Located in Los Angeles County, MacLaren Hall was supposed to be a haven for unwanted, abused, and abandoned children. Its founders opened its doors in the 1940s with an original intent to house non-delinquent minors and keep them separated from other children guilty or accused of crimes. Its purpose changed, and it began housing children from the county juvenile hall due to overcrowding. Eventually, it grew to house over 4,000 children a year at its peak capacity in the 1960s.
Although initially intended for minors without criminal backgrounds, Mac Hall is said to have felt like a prison. It had a 14-foot chain-link fence topped with five feet of barbed wire and floodlights everywhere. For decades up to the 1970s, the county probation department ran Mac Hall, so they operated it just like they operated the prisons.
Children frequently ran away, violence was common, and the facility was notoriously overcrowded. Many reports by former residents of over-medication, beatings, restraints, confinement to a small punishment room, rape, and other forms of sexual assault make Mac Hall a supposedly dangerous and traumatizing place to have been versus the sanctuary intended.
Why did MacLaren Hall close?
Dogged by child abuse and neglect complaints, Mac Hall finally shut down when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Los Angeles County for failing to provide sufficient medical care for the children. In its lawsuit, ACLU accused Los Angeles County and the State of California of several broad failures, many of which directly involved Mac Hall, including:
- Overreliance on Mac Hall as a semi-permanent rather than temporary housing facility
- Favoring budget-conscious decisions over those in the best interests of children
- Merely cataloging the mental health needs of children rather than focusing on providing the requisite care
- Children in need of mental health treatment or with other special needs either received no appropriate treatment or only treatment one hour a week
- Lack of training for Mac Hall staff and other social workers
The lawsuit also alleged specific instances of neglect:
- Mary: A 16-year-old blind girl experienced sexual abuse by her uncle and stepfather. Rather than providing psychiatric treatment for her trauma, a caseworker simply referred to her emotional issues as “hormones acting up.” Instead of receiving appropriate medical care, Mac Hall subjected Mary to a neverending cycle of foster home placement back to Mac Hall back into foster care.
- Janet. An 11-year-old girl suffered physical abuse at home. After being placed in government custody, she endured several psychiatric hospitalizations but never received the intensive mental health care she needed.
- Henry. A 9-year-old boy suffered abuse by a friend of his mother. Records indicated that despite being diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he failed to receive the intensive individual therapy needed.
Under the heavy weight of this lawsuit, Los Angeles County decided to close Mac Hall and make other institutional changes.
How common was sex abuse at MacLaren Hall?
It’s impossible to know the true extent of child abuse at Mac Hall, but there are ample retellings of its horrors from the survivors to infer that the abuse was widespread.
MacLaren Hall Survivors
Fellow survivors created and dedicated the website MacLaren Hall Survivors to “healing, renewal, reconciliation, [and] justice.” It provides first-hand accounts from former Mac Hall residents, including:
- Anna: Placed in Mac Hall in the mid-1980s, Anna and some other girls tried to escape. They were caught, beaten, and tied up for three days as punishment.
- Arestina: Family services placed Arestina in Mac Hall in 1992. She recalls her first medical check-up at arrival and describes cold hands probing her “privates like I wasn’t human . . . a very cold sensation of pain.” She was treated like an animal and recounted how another young girl had her arm broken by staff for talking at night. Arestina also discusses the infamous punishment room – a small room with no toilet where staff routinely confined young residents for hours or days for minor infractions.
- Daniel: He endured eight years of torture at Mac Hall that left him suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and nightmares.
- Pita: This resident suffered broken bones and bruised ribs. She remembers being stripped and confined in the punishment room, which had only a small window. At times, male staff members would order her to stand naked against the wall.
- Crystal: Crystal also talks about being locked in the punishment room for hours. She stated that the staff was physically abusive and further noted that living at Mac Hall was worse than living in a house where she also experienced abuse.
- Mina: Treated like cattle, Mina says she slept on the floor in the hallway due to the overcrowding.
Recent MacLaren Hall Sex Abuse Cases
The 2002 lawsuit by ACLU was only the start of legal troubles for Los Angeles County. Recently, survivors are initiating their own cases to speak out about their injustices. For example, a 15-year-old girl from El Monte suffered sexual abuse from her mother and four men living in the house. Her lawsuit alleged that two social workers for the county Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) had reasonable suspicions that she had been sexually assaulted but did not inform the appropriate authorities. Her lawsuit ended favorably, with a $20.6 million award from Los Angeles County.
Can you hold Los Angeles County liable for sexual abuse at MacLaren Hall?
Yes. There are many legal theories by which Los Angeles County can be responsible for sexual abuse, physical abuse, and other mistreatment of children at Mac Hall. Likely the most promising is negligent hiring and supervision.
Negligent Hiring and Supervision
Los Angeles County, as the employer, knew or should have known that Mac Hall staff members were a risk to the residents at the facility. The county may be responsible for sexual abuse that occurred at the hands of Mac Hall employees if one or more of the following applies:
- The county fails to run a background check and hires a person who has a criminal record for assault.
- The county ignores complaints by parents of a staff member’s inappropriate behavior, or it ignores other evidence of abuse. Overlooking signs or reports of abuse one time can be negligent.
- The county writes a training program for its employees about child sexual abuse but fails to supervise its employees’ implementation of related protocols.
How much compensation can I receive if I suffered sexual abuse at MacLaren Hall?
There’s no exact formula for determining the amount of compensation a jury might award a victim of child sexual abuse. Each case is different, and the dollar number awarded depends on the specific facts of your case, the evidence presented, and the jury itself.
Compensation can cover past, present, and ongoing medical expenses, including psychological and psychiatric treatment, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from your harm.
How do I know if I have a valid case?
Victims of sexual abuse at Mac Hall can prove negligent hiring or supervision if they establish the following four elements:
- The employee was unfit to carry out the job duties needed to fulfill their responsibilities at the center per their hiring contract or job description;
- Los Angeles County knew or should have known that the employee was incompetent or worse;
- The employee sexual abused a resident; and
- The sexual abuse resulted in physical or emotional damages to the resident.
Is it too late to file a claim?
Probably not. Under California law, if you were a child when the sexual abuse happened, you have until the age of 40 to sue Los Angeles County for the harm you suffered from the staff at Mac Hall. This time restriction is called a statute of limitations. There are two exceptions to this rule – one permanent and one temporary – that can prolong the time you have to initiate a lawsuit:
- Permanent exception: For all victims, especially children, you may not realize when sexual abuse happens until you later learn what it is and how it affected you. If this is your situation, you have five years to file a claim from the date you discover or reasonably should have discovered your abuse.
- Temporary exception: The law presently allows for a lookback window. Until December 31, 2022, you have a “window” of opportunity to file a claim for sexual abuse regardless of your age or when the incident occurred.
The statute of limitations, while seemingly straightforward, can be complicated. If you experienced sexual assault or abuse, consult with a lawyer to examine the facts of your case and determine whether filing your sexual abuse claim is still an option.
What evidence do I need to prove my claim?
When determining what evidence you need to prove your case, it’s important to remember the four elements you must meet to establish that Los Angeles County negligently hired or supervised a child sexual predator. A sexual abuse attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence for a successful claim. Contact a sexual abuse law firm today for a consultation.
Unfitness of Employee to Work at MacLaren Hall
To prove this element, you need to show that the employee who sexually abused you should not have worked at Mac Hall due to their disciplinary or criminal history. For example, if the employee was a convicted child molester, you could introduce a copy of their criminal record into evidence.
Los Angeles County Knew or Should Have Known of the Employee’s Unfitness
It can be challenging to prove that Los Angeles County knew about the unsuitability of an employee upon their hiring or that the person did not have adequate supervision. Alternatively, you can prove that the county should have known about the risks or disparities. Evidence that the county failed to take reasonable steps in the hiring or supervision of the unfit employee should be sufficient to prove this element.
For example, any agency dealing with child supervision and care probably has a screening program for its employees. If such a program existed, but Los Angeles County failed to follow the appropriate procedures to carry out its requirements, its conduct could be considered unreasonable. You can show evidence of the screening program and find someone willing to testify that the county failed to satisfy proper screening protocols.
The Unfit Employee Sexually Abused You at MacLaren Hall
It’s not enough that you suffered sexual abuse – you must prove that the employee of Los Angeles County working at Mac Hall committed the act. For instance, assume you wake up in the hospital with no memory of the past 72 hours. A medical exam establishes that you were the victim of sexual assault. If you can’t remember who did it, another method of showing a Los Angeles employee was responsible is needed. Perhaps the molester admitted they did it to someone else. Without any evidence of who sexually abused you, though, it’s difficult to prevail on your claim.
The Sexual Abuse Caused You Damages
While the first three elements are critical to proving that the defendant is liable for sexually assaulting you, the final element is paramount to show why a court should award you civil damages. You must demonstrate that you suffered injuries necessitating compensation to help recover your losses.
Generally, there are three types of damages awarded, including economic, non-economic, and punitive. Courts grant economic and non-economic damages to compensate you for your injuries. The intent of punitive damages, though, is to punish the defendant for their wrongful or egregious conduct and deter others from committing the same or similar acts.
Economic damages are monetary damages, directly reimbursing you for expenses incurred or that you are expecting to pay, including medical treatment costs and counseling services’ fees. In extreme cases, where the victim is rendered unable to work due to permanent emotional damages, the court might also consider your diminished earning capacity. For the following economic damages, we discuss possible ways to establish your injuries:
- Past medical expenses: You can readily prove these by retrieving records of your past medical bills. Even so, the defendant may challenge the reasonableness of the type or cost of medical care provided. Typically, the evidence presented will include past surgical procedures, blood tests, and lab tests like X-rays or MRIs. Additionally, your lawyer may hire an expert to testify about the reasonableness and necessity of all medical treatment.
- Future medical expenses: Expenses that have not yet happened are more challenging to prove. You can hire an expert to evaluate your condition and testify in court about future medical needs, including ongoing medical appointments, additional surgeries, blood tests, and lab tests. The expert may also present other needs, including long-term care and years of counseling.
- Diminished earning capacity: When you’re a child, you have your whole career ahead of you. If a violent sexual assault causes you permanent emotional trauma, it can significantly impact your ability to make a suitable living. In this instance, you may receive compensation to make up the difference between a normal earning capacity and your diminished earning capacity. Experts, called vocational experts, can examine your situation and testify about any decrease in earning capacity you may have due to your continued emotional effects resulting from your trauma.
Non-economic damages reimburse you for your pain and suffering caused by your sexual abuse. Unlike economic damages, there’s no documentation of expenses to help guide a jury. Instead, it’s left to their discretion to determine an appropriate amount of compensation to cover the intangible harm.
Punitive damages are available when the defendant acts with a conscious disregard for the safety of the victim. You must prove the defendant’s intentionally harmful or egregious behavior by clear and convincing evidence – a high burden of proof to meet. In the case of negligent hiring or supervision, you would have to prove that Los Angeles’ failure to responsibly hire or adequately supervise its staff rose to the level of conscious disregard for your safety.
Should I contact a sexual abuse law firm?
Yes, for several reasons. An established sex abuse law firm has dedicated personal injury attorneys that can help you in the following ways:
- Experience: Personal injury lawyers with years of experience filing sexual abuse claims can properly evaluate the facts of your case, discuss the viability of your claim, and recommend whether legal action is the right choice for you.
- Contingency fees: Most personal injury lawyers only charge you a fee if you win, with the predetermined and agreed-on percentage coming directly from your judge or jury award. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll likely be responsible for court costs, including filing fees or expert witness fees.
- Investigators and experts: Your lawyer will know the right investigators and technical experts to help support your claims. Sexual abuse cases are complex, requiring the services of dedicated investigators and experts in medicine and other fields to make conclusions about your injuries and trauma.
- Objectivity: Sexual abuse is a terrifying experience, requiring years of recovery. In the aftermath of an assault, you may not be able to think clearly or focus on filing a sexual abuse claim on your own. That’s why you need a compassionate and objective lawyer to step in to handle the details and legal complexities of your lawsuit.
Contact Herman Law today. Our dedicated team at Herman Law focuses exclusively on representing those who suffered sexual abuse – from California to New York and every state in between. Don’t wait any longer to seek justice and compensation for your harm. Our law firm is available now for a free consultation. Contact us online or call us at 1 (800) 686-9921.