Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Sexual assault impacts millions of Americans every year. It is estimated that an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds, with those between the ages of 12 to 34 (e.g. victims of childhood sexual abuse) at the highest risk for this type of violence. While the criminal court system is meant to punish the individual perpetrator, it often isn't enough for a victim of sexual violence. The victim may suffer from lasting emotional or physical trauma because of a sexual predator.
Luckily, the victim (or their guardians, if a child is involved) may be able to file a sexual assault civil suit. This may help them recover from the physical, personal injuries and mental health/emotional harm they suffer and will continue to suffer as a result of the abuse. Recovery includes medical expenses for physical injuries, money to cover mental anguish such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and other harms resulting from sexual acts. In particularly egregious cases, you may even be able to recover punitive damages.
Below, you will find key information about civil sexual assault lawsuits, including:
- The differences between a criminal and civil sexual assault case
- What cause of action you may have
- What parties may be sued
- Where to go for more information
Remember, if you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual violence and are in imminent danger, contact law enforcement and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline immediately.
Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases
You may be wondering why a victim would want to initiate a civil lawsuit after dealing with the anguish of a criminal case. But are criminal charges, criminal prosecution, and even jail time enough to punish sex abusers? What if there is no conviction?
In some cases, a criminal sexual assault trial puts the victim's life on display. They are called to the witness stand and asked to relive their incredibly devastating experience in front of a room of strangers. If, after all of that, the defendant is found either “not guilty" or the jury can't reach a decision (known as a “hung jury"), the person may feel victimized all over again.
They may wonder, “Where is the justice?" Simply put, criminal trials carry the highest burden of proof under the law: “beyond a reasonable doubt." If the jury has any reasonable doubt as to the defendant's innocence, they may not convict them.
Where does that leave the victim? They may feel angry, maybe even betrayed, or ashamed. But victims of sexual assault need not despair. Their next remedy may be a civil sexual assault lawsuit. A civil lawsuit may be a viable option for victims for three reasons:
- The civil burden of proof is lower than the criminal burden of proof.
- The civil standard of proof is a "preponderance of the evidence."
- A preponderance of the evidence requires that the sexual assault victim convince the jury that there is a greater than 50% chance that their claim is true.
As with any lawsuit, there is never a guarantee of an outcome, so it is important to speak with a sexual assault lawyer and get legal advice about your options.
Can I Sue the Alleged Perpetrator for Sexual Assault?
In the civil lawsuit world, there generally isn't a cause of action for sexual assault. Basically, the victim won't be filing a lawsuit against the defendant for sexual assault or rape per se. Instead, the victim will file a lawsuit for one of a number of intentional torts. An intentional tort is a wrongful act that caused harm to the victim. Some possible theories under which to sue are:
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- False Imprisonment
- Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (for witnesses or bystanders to the sexual assault)
It's worth noting that some states (California, for instance) have codified sex-related causes of action. Also, the reasons for suing aren't always monetary in nature. Some victims simply want the sense of validation that can accompany the legal recognition of their experience. They may also want a sense of justice and closure, knowing that the culprit will be held accountable for what they did.
Suing Third Parties
In addition to suing the assailant, a victim may choose to name a third party who may be responsible. One strategic reason to do this is to ensure some monetary compensation from their case.
For example, a victim can be successful in a civil lawsuit against a person who raped them; but if the rapist doesn't have any money, the victim may have a difficult time collecting monetary damages.
A few examples of third-party liability in a sexual assault case can include suing a landlord or innkeeper; suing businesses, government entities, schools, and hospitals; or suing an employer who failed to properly screen (e.g., via background check) or monitor an employee who sexually assaulted a person.
How a Sex Abuse Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
A sexual abuse attorney is a type of personal injury attorney who can assist you with legal action in civil court. Because sex crimes can form the basis for a personal injury lawsuit, an experienced lawyer's free case evaluation of your sexual assault claim can help you get a better understanding of the amount of money you may be able to recover. Many attorneys offer free consultations.
Keep in mind that most civil claims, including personal injury cases, have a time limit for court filing. This time limit is known as the statute of limitations. Some states have extended or eliminated this limit for sex crimes. The goal is to help sexual assault survivors (especially those who suffered child sexual abuse) recover financial compensation later in life.
If you or a loved one have been victims of sexual abuse, consider a client relationship with an attorney as soon as possible.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.