Jan 26, 2023

Loretta P. Merritt quoted by The London Free Press on the civil lawsuit filed against the Thames Valley District School Board

Loretta P. Merritt was quoted by The London Free Press on the $2.8-million civil lawsuit filed against the Thames Valley District School Board and ex-teacher Dustin Epp. 

'Vicarious liability,' teacher misconduct and the legal risks facing school boards

The $2.8-million civil lawsuit filed against Southwestern Ontario's largest school board over a now-missing teacher's sexual abuse of a student underscores the liability risk boards face for the misconduct of educators, one expert says.

The Free Press reported last week that the Thames Valley District school board has been named along with ex-teacher Dustin Epp in the lawsuit, filed by a student who accused the former Oakridge secondary school teacher of sexual abuse.

Epp, 48, skipped a Tuesday sentencing on criminal charges in the case and police have asked the public for help finding him.

He pleaded guilty last fall to voyeurism, sexual interference, possession of child pornography and production of child pornography.

Loretta Merritt is a litigator at the Toronto firm Torkin Manes specializing in abuse and harassment in civil lawsuits. She is not involved in this case. But in an interview, she said naming a school board in an action forces the disclosure of personnel files and other information that can be important to the case.

In a civil action seeking damages for abuse by teachers, school boards can be liable in negligence, for failing in their duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the incident, or through vicarious liability, she said.

“Vicarious liability is the automatic liability imposed by law without any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the school board, simply because they are the employer of the teacher,” Merritt said. “If you know you could be liable, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’re going to do everything humanly possible, everything in your power to make sure it does not happen. And that’s not a bad thing when we’re talking about sending kids to school.”

To read the full article, please visit The London Free Press website.

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Loretta P. Merritt