According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. 96 percent of the people who sexually abuse children are male, and nearly 77 percent of these perpetrators are adults at the time that the abuse takes place. As many as a quarter of women who attend college are victims of forced sex during their time in college, along with 15 percent of men. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of sexual abuse cases are ever reported to authorities, and 90 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported.
If you were the victim of sexual abuse or assault, you’re likely aware that reporting your case to authorities may result in a criminal investigation, which may also be followed up by criminal charges. However, you may not be aware that you may also be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit against your abuser to obtain the compensation you need to make a meaningful recovery. An experienced sexual Assault attorney at the Dolman Law Group can help you to understand your legal options.
How Is a Civil Suit Different Than a Criminal Case?
There are many differences between a civil lawsuit and a criminal case. Descriptions of each are as follows:
- A criminal case begins when a crime has been committed and reported to authorities. If a law enforcement investigation of the case leads to an arrest, then the suspect is formally charged. To obtain a conviction, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did, in fact, commit the crime. If the defendant is found guilty of the crime, they will then be punished through incarceration, probation, and/or fines. However, a criminal case does not compensate the victim of the abuse, and victims have very little say in how the case is presented, whether a plea deal is accepted, or other details that fall within the realm of the prosecutor’s authority and control.
- A civil suit is filed on behalf of the victim in civil court and the result is determined based on a preponderance of evidence. What this means is that the jury or judge decides whether the abuse was more likely to have occurred than not. If the judge or jury determines that the abuse occurred, the court then looks at the damages sought by the plaintiff and determines whether the award is fair. A civil suit does not attempt to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence, but rather whether the defendant is legally liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Why Would I Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer for My Sexual Abuse Case?
When it comes to sexual abuse cases and finding the right lawyer, you want to find an attorney who is experienced in civil tort law. A tort is a civil wrong that caused economic or emotional harm to an individual and for which the at-fault party has legal liability. Personal injury law covers civil torts of all types that result in injuries and economic harm. Not all personal injury lawyers have experience with sexual abuse cases, however, so it is important when selecting the attorney who will represent you in your case that you select someone who has experience in this type of case.
Some services that a personal injury lawyer with experience in sexual abuse cases can provide for you include:
- Help understanding the various requirements involved in filing a case, including the statute of limitations.
- Legal knowledge as to your options for seeking compensation as well as knowledge about other forms of assistance and resources that may be available to you.
- A determination about the liability of all of the people or entities that may be potentially liable in the case. Your abuser may not be the only one with liability—if the abuse occurred within a church, school, or other institutional setting, then others may also be liable for attempting to cover up the crime, for failing to provide adequate security, or for not reporting allegations of abuse to authorities.
- Help in determining the value of your case, which is the amount of economic and non-economic costs that you have incurred due to the abuse. Economic costs include the cost of medical treatment to treat any injuries, pregnancy, or sexually transmitted disease related to the abuse, therapy to deal with the emotional impact of the abuse, lost wages, and other expenses you have incurred. Non-economic costs include emotional distress, anxiety or depression, loss of enjoyment of life, and other impacts you suffered to your quality of life as a result of the abuse.
- Seeking a settlement from insurance companies that provide coverage to the abuser or other potentially liable party. This is particularly relevant in abuse cases involving teachers, clergy, or staff members in a facility where the abuse occurred.
- Filing a personal injury lawsuit in your case in accordance with court requirements.
- Attending all pre-trial conferences and hearings on your behalf.
- Representing you in litigation.
- Helping you to collect your damage award.
- Representing you in any appeals filed by the defendant.
Does My Abuser Need to Be Convicted for My Case to Succeed?
While a civil case can be filed and even won without a criminal conviction or even a criminal charge brought against the defendant, a conviction in a criminal case can be powerful evidence in the plaintiff’s favor in a civil suit. There is no jail time on the table for a defendant in a civil trial.
I Was Abused by a Member of the Clergy. Who Is Liable?
As previously mentioned, the potentially liable parties in sex abuse cases include clergy, as well as a school or other institution’s staff members. Some of the possible issues your attorney will be looking for in your case when determining liable parties include:
- Was a full background check performed on the abuser before they were hired? Was there anything in the defendant’s past employment history that indicated that they might sexually abuse children?
- Did the victim tell anyone else associated with the church, school, or institution that abuse had taken place? Did anyone else who knew about the abuse report it to the church, school, or institution? Individuals who are entrusted with caring for children have an obligation to report allegations of abuse to authorities.
- Did the organization have a policy in place to properly deal with allegations of sexual abuse, and was that policy followed?
- Was an investigation of abuse allegations performed by officials at the church, school, or institution?
- Was there any attempt made, by anyone, to conceal evidence, reports, or allegations of the abuse from school officials, social services, or law enforcement?
- Was there any attempt on the part of anyone affiliated with the church, school, or institution to intimidate the victim or coerce them into not speaking about or reporting the abuse?
What if the Abuse Occurred Years Ago?
Many states are rethinking their statutes of limitations in sexual abuse cases so that victims can recover compensation for the damages they incurred. This is taking place due to the sheer number of survivors who continue to suffer from the lasting effects of sex abuse, even into adulthood. Your personal injury attorney can discuss your legal options with you.
Sexual Abuse Cases in the News
What does a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse look like? While each case is unique and subject to the laws of the state in which the abuse occurred, here are some news stories that may shed some light:
- A lawsuit was filed against the Boy Scouts and the Montana Boy Scout Council by two men who say they were abused by scout leaders. The suit alleges that the Boy Scouts organization failed to implement and enforce child protection policies and that they failed to properly vet troop leaders in spite of previous allegations of abuse made against them. While the organization issued a statement saying that it believes victims who come forward and pays for their counseling when abuse occurs, the men initially reported the abuse in 1968 and 1980, and no action was taken. The lawsuit states that the organization was aware of the abuse but concealed it from potential members and their families. Montana lawmakers recently extended the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases, allowing a one-year window in which older cases could be filed.
- California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing the victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers until the age of 40. Previously, the statute of limitations had been when the victim turned 26 years old or three years after the abuse was discovered. California and other states that have chosen to modify their statutes of limitations did so over the protests of school districts, which argued that the changes to the law would break them financially. The law also suspends the statute of limitations for three years beginning on January 1, 2020, to provide child sexual abuse survivors over the age of 40 time to file lawsuits if they wish. A Seattle-based attorney stated that his firm is currently representing 100 child abuse victims from across California who have been waiting for the law to change.
- New York and New Jersey both increased their statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, allowing victims to file a lawsuit until they reach the age of 55. Additionally, New York suspended the statute of limitations for one year, resulting in scores of suits filed against hospitals, schools, and churches.
- In Minnesota, a children’s theater company agreed to settle with 16 former students who were abused by former staff members in the 1970s and 1980s, and is planning to settle nine remaining lawsuits soon. The lawsuits were filed after Minnesota suspended its statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases in 2013. Earlier this year, one of the cases went to court and the court found the theatre company generally negligent but not liable for the rape of a former student by a company actor when she was 15 years old.
- Following a long-awaited release of a report detailing sexual abuse within the Colorado Catholic dioceses, which named 40 priests accused of abuse, survivors of that abuse urged lawmakers to suspend the statute of limitations so that they could file lawsuits against their abusers. The victims stated that these lawsuits would uncover information that the report left out. Survivors also noted that the report did not result in a criminal investigation, but rather was categorized as an out-of-court mediation as a result of a deal between the state attorney general’s office and the three Roman Catholic dioceses in Colorado. As part of the deal, church leaders were allowed to approve the members of the investigative team. Some religious officials were not investigated or included in the review, including one who had been accused of abuse by 23 former students at the high school where he worked. The dioceses were also responsible for producing their files for investigators and paid for half of the costs of the investigation. The report also does not name church leaders who moved priests to other locations or allowed them to keep working in spite of abuse allegations against them. The attorney general stated that the report was done to provide justice to the abused while also protecting their confidentiality. Colorado’s statute of limitations allows victims to sue over child sex abuse cases until age 24, or two years after the abuse occurred.
If you are a survivor of child sex abuse, contact an experienced lawyer about your case can answer your questions and help you decide how to proceed.
Dolman Law Group
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900