Abused Campers Can Sue Over Pedophile Counselor

     SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A camp-staffing outfit cannot dismiss a negligence claim related to a counselor who sexually abused children, a federal judge ruled.
     The American Institute for Foreign Study dba Camp America specializes in finding work for foreign individuals who wish to work as camp counselors in the United States.
     In July 2008, Camp America processed counselor applications for a summer camp in Kerr County, Texas, called Camp Stewart for Boys.
     After interviewing applicants and collecting reference letters, Camp America recommended Australian applicant Scott Zirus, and Camp Stewart hired Zirus as a counselor for the summer of 2009.
     Several boys later accused Zirus of molesting them that summer, and Zirus subsequently pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child, sexual contact with a child, and continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14. He is serving a 40-year sentence.
     Former campers and their parents sued Camp America for negligent hiring, negligent failure to warn, and aiding and abetting Camp Stewart’s breach of fiduciary duties.
     U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez noted that one of Zirus’ recommendation letters was missing a signature, but his Australian criminal background check allegedly came back clean.
     The court granted Camp America partial summary judgment on Wednesday.
     Because Camp Stewart, rather than Camp America, clearly employed Zirus, the staffing agency cannot be held liable for negligent hiring, the ruling states.
     Rodriguez also sided with Camp America as to the aiding and abetting claim.
     “AIFS did not possess a sufficient right to control Camp Stewart’s actions to justify imposing concert of action liability on it, because Camp Stewart’s responsibilities with regard to the ultimate employment of the camp counselors made available to it by AIFS placed the right to control those counselors exclusively with Camp Stewart,” Rodriguez wrote, abbreviating Camp America’s corporate name. “Finally, AIFS was not present when Zirus sexually abused the Plaintiffs, nor did it possess the requisite state of mind with regard to assisting Camp Stewart’s breach of its duties.”
     The boys have showed, however, that they may be able to hold Camp America liable for negligent failure to warn, a factor that requires showing of at least a limited duty of care, according to the 19-page ruling.
     Camp America may have breached its duty by accepting the unsigned recommendation letter and by not verifying who wrote the letters, the judge found.
     To impose a duty for a state-law negligence claim, “only the general danger of harm, not the exact sequence of events, and the particular plaintiff, need to be foreseeable,” Rodriguez wrote.
     Selecting an adult man to work with young children presents a foreseeable risk of sexual assault, according to the ruling.

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