Sexual Abuse (Civil Litigation)
When a perpetrator is accused of sexual abuse, he or she is commonly facing a criminal prosecution. If convicted, the abuser will most likely go to prison, pay large fines, and is thereafter accountable to the state. In the U.S. judicial system, the punishments for sexual abuse are harsh and unsympathetic. But while the abuser goes to jail, what happens to the abused?
With a civil lawsuit, the abused can hold the defendant responsible for a myriad of damages. If the perpetrator is found liable for damages incurred from sexual abuse, then he/she owes financial compensation for both economic damages (medical and therapy expenses, for example) as well as non-economic (pain, suffering, and punitive damages).
Criminal and Civil Trials For the Same Abuse
Moving from criminal to civil trials can be a fairly complicated matter. The first concern many people have involves “double jeopardy,” where a defendant cannot be tried again on the same charges. Fortunately, in litigation, the defendant isn’t being tried as guilty or not-guilty. Instead, the civil court is investigating the damages incurred by the victim and appropriating a reasonable and accurate compensation to the victim.
However, depending on the application of issue preclusion (a doctrine preventing the re-litigation of an issue), it might actually be easier for the victim to win a civil trial if the defendant was convicted for the same acts as in the criminal trial. A guilty conviction proves that sexual abuse occurred and that the victim suffered damages from the act.
Even if the defendant was found not-guilty, victims can sue for the same wrongful and illegal acts and still win in a civil court. The main difference is that in a criminal court, the judge must find that the defendant committed a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil trial, the plaintiff must show that it is “more likely than not” that abuse occurred.
Common Claims and Damages in Sexual Abuse Cases
The purpose of any civil lawsuit case is to return the victim to the position he/she would be in if the sexual abuse had not occurred. In other words, the financial compensation from a sexual abuse civil case typically covers the emotional and physical harm the victim suffered and will continue to suffer.
Because there is no cause of action titled “sexual assault,” however, plaintiffs in a civil case often choose another legal theory to hold the defendant liable, such as Assault and Battery or Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. At the same time, the courts commonly award very high damages for these types of crimes.
But who will pay these awards, especially because most liability insurance policies don’t cover intentional acts? Unfortunately, the main source of compensation comes from the defendant’s personal assets.
Victims of abuse can also target third parties as long as the third party played some role in the sexual abuse. Some examples of third party defendants can include the place of business, school, or another institution where the abuse occurred.
Awards for a sexual abuse often include the following damages:
- Compensation for medical or therapy bills
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages (can include future wages that the victim would have received if the abuse had not occurred)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Punitive damages
- Loss of consortium
Should You File Suit?
Sexual abuse endures as one of the most damaging and destructive crimes, and there is no amount of financial award that can fully compensate for this situation. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to filing suit. The most important advantage is the feeling of closure sexual abuse victims receive.
The disadvantages, on the other hand, can include the uncertainty involved in the process, the outcome and therapeutic closure that may never come, the memories that a victim might have to re-live in civil litigation, and intrusive disclosure of personal lives as well as the possibility for adversarial cross-examination.
What to Expect in a Civil Lawsuit
If a victim or a parent or legal guardian of a victim (in child abuse cases) decides to file a lawsuit, it is important to be prepared for what is to come. In short, the sexual abuse case will progress through three general stages, including the pre-trial stage, the trial itself, and the post-trial motions. The first step in the entire process is consulting with an attorney who has experience in sexual abuse cases, as he/she can help guide the victim through each stage of the entire trial while gathering the necessary evidence and fighting on the victim’s behalf. An attorney can also provide counsel on what to claim for damages.
Remember, the statue of limitations in Arizona for sexual abuse civil cases is two years. If you or a loved one was victim of sexual abuse, we invite you to give us a call at (480) 502-0708 or send us a message for a free initial consultation.
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