Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault are bringing civil lawsuits in California and getting significant settlements. Thanks to new changes in California law, it is now much easier for sex abuse victims to access the civil courts. In this post, we will take a brief look at the process and laws related to sex abuse lawsuits in California. We will also examine the average settlement value of these cases and provide examples of settlements and verdicts.
What is Sexual Abuse or Assault in California?
Sexual abuse or sexual assault can range from forcible rape to groping. The legal definition of sexual assault in California includes any form of unwanted (i.e., non-consensual) touching or contact with another person’s intimate parts for the purpose of sexual satisfaction or arousal. Cal. Penal Code § 243.4 In the context of civil lawsuits, sexual abuse or assault is often referred to as sexual battery.
This broad definition encompasses a very wide range of sexual contact or touching. The 2 critical elements that must be present for the touching to constitute sexual battery are (1) intent, and (2) lack of consent.
To constitute sexual battery, the touching or contact must be intentionally done for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal. If your boss accidentally touches your breast at work, or touches your butt to prevent you from falling, that is not considered sexual battery because there is no sexual intent.
The second element is a lack of consent. For an intentional sexual touching to constitute sexual battery, the touching must be non-consensual. Anyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor and lacks the capacity to give legal consent to any sexual touching. Therefore, any form of intentional sexual contact with an minor will automatically constitute sexual abuse or battery.
Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse or Assault in California
Under California law, anyone who is the victim of sexual abuse or assault has the ability to file a civil lawsuit and seek monetary compensation. Abuse victims can bring a civil lawsuit regardless of whether they pressed criminal charges. In fact, victims can file suit even if they never reported or told anyone about the abuse when it happened.
To file a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse, victims simply need to be willing to testify under oath about the facts relating to the sexual abuse or assault. This testimony can be further supported by other evidence, such as medical records showing physical injuries resulting from the assault. Testimony from other factual witnesses can also be presented.
Although the sex abuse lawsuit will be public record, California’s rules of civil procedure allow victims in these cases to conceal their name and identity in publicly filed court documents. For example, if Jessica Smith files a sexual abuse lawsuits, she can be named in the pleadings as “J.S.” or Jane Doe.
Holding Third Parties Liable in Sex Abuse Lawsuits
The obvious defendant in a sex abuse civil lawsuit would be the individual person who committed the abuse or assault. The only issue is that person might already be dead or in jail, and even if they are still around they probably don’t have enough money to pay a verdict or settlement for the lawsuit. Unless the abuser is someone who is very wealthy, suing them is often pointless.
The key to a successful sexual abuse lawsuit is going after third parties with deep pockets such as schools, churches, or corporations. These third parties can be held liable if the victim can show that they were somehow negligent in preventing the sexual abuse or failing to protect the victim.
Here is an example of how third parties can be held liable in sex abuse civil lawsuits. Let’s say Jane was sexually abused by her high school teacher Bob. Although Jane never told anyone about the abuse, the school had received other reports and complaints about Bob engaging in inappropriate conduct with students. The school never investigated these reports. Jane can file a sex abuse lawsuit against the school on the grounds that it was negligent in failing to investigate Bob and protect Jane and other students from him.
California Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits
A statute of limitations is basically a deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. If the statute of limitations period has expired, the plaintiff will be barred from filing suit. California recently passed new laws amending and expanding the statute of limitations for sex abuse lawsuits to make it easier for victims to bring claims.
SOL for Childhood Sexual Assault: If the sexual abuse occurred when the victim was a minor (under the age of 18) the new California law allows the victim to file a civil lawsuit anytime before their 40th birthday. CA Civ Pro Code § 340
SOL for Adult Sexual Assault (After 2019): If the victim was an adult and the sexual abuse occurred after January 1, 2019, California law allows the victim 10 years from the date of the last assault. CA Civ Pro Code § 340.16
SOL for Adult Sexual Assault (2009-2019): On January 1, 2023, the Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act, otherwise known as California Assembly Bill 2777, went into effect. This law opens up a three-year “lookback window” permitting survivors to file civil claims for sexual assault beginning on January 1, 2023 and ending on December 31, 2026. This law only covers incidents of sexual assault that occurred between January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2019.
How Sex Abuse Lawsuits in California Are Evaluated for Settlement
California sex abuse lawsuits against churches are evaluated for settlement based on various factors. These factors help determine the appropriate settlement amount and the likelihood of reaching an agreement between the parties involved. Some factors to consider include:
- Strength of the evidence: The availability and quality of evidence supporting the victim’s claims are crucial in determining the potential success of the lawsuit. Stronger evidence can lead to a higher settlement amount as the churches and other sex abuse lawsuit defendants do not want to take a big verdict at trial. You do not need other victims alleging abuse against the same perpetrator to have a strong claim. But it does help a great deal.
- Severity of the abuse: The extent and nature of the abuse suffered by the victim can impact the settlement amount. More severe cases of abuse may result in larger settlements due to the increased emotional and psychological damage suffered by the victim. Longer abuse is correlated with larger settlement payouts but everyone understands that even one incident can be life scarring.
- Statute of limitations: As we talked about above, California has extended the statute of limitations for filing sex abuse lawsuits, allowing survivors more time to come forward with their claims. However, the age of the case and the availability of witnesses and evidence may still affect the settlement evaluation.
- Damages: The victim’s damages, including emotional distress, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages, play a significant role in determining the settlement amount. Higher damages may lead to larger settlement amounts. But the single largest part of any settlement will be the victim’s pain and suffering damages.
- Extent of church or corporate liability: The level of responsibility or negligence by the church or responsibility of just how much they failed the victim will affect the settlement amount of a California sex abuse lawsuit. If the church or corporation was either aware of the abuse or clearly turned a blind eye to all of the clues, that has a real impact. If they tried to cover it up, a jury will destroy them and that impacts settlement payouts.
- Reputation and financial resources of the church or corporation: The financial position and public image of the church can influence the settlement amount. Larger, more established churches may be more likely to settle for higher amounts to protect their reputation and avoid a lengthy trial. Conversely, if the defendant does not have assets or Insurance coverage, that is a problem
- Your sex abuse lawyer: The experience and skill of the attorneys representing both the victim and the church or company can influence the settlement process and the final settlement amount. The best California sex abuse lawyers fetch the higher settlement amounts for their clients.
California Sex Abuse Verdicts and Settlements
One path to assist in understanding how much your California sex abuse lawsuit might be worth is comparing your case to previous settlements and verdicts in similar cases involving sexual abuse. So we provide these below. They absolutely help you understand the range of settlement amounts in these cases. But do not fill into the trap of thinking you can determine how much your case is worth by looking at the example settlements and verdicts. While these can provide valuable insights into potential compensation, you have to understand that every case is unique and complex, and it’s not possible to accurately summarize a case in a single paragraph. You cannot assume that a similar case will have the same outcome.
So it is crucial to recognize that there are many factors at play in any given sex abuse case, and a settlement or verdict in one case cannot predict the outcome of another. Therefore, prior settlements and verdicts can be used as a tool to gain a general understanding of the range of potential compensation but should be considered in conjunction with other case evaluation tools to accurately determine the value of your claim.
$2,300,000,000 Verdict (California 2023): The plaintiff alleged that she was sexually abused for years by her stepfather (a Mormon church elder). She filed suit against her stepfather, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her mother. In April 2023, a jury awarded $2.3 billion in damages. The award was largely symbolic, however, as it was against only the stepfather. The plaintiff had already settled her claims against the Church for $1.2 million.
$374,400,000 Settlement (California 2022): The University of California system agreed to pay a total of over $374.4 million to settle claims by 312 women who were the victims of sexual abuse by former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heap. The UC system has paid a total of over $700 million to resolve claims involving sexual abuse of patients by Dr. Heap.
$244,250 Settlement (California 2021): In this case, a 15-year-old girl was placed in a foster home where she was sexually abused by the adult son of the foster parents. She filed suit against the County and the foster family agency on the grounds that they filed to take action to stop the abuse, and failed to establish and follow appropriate policies to supervise her safety in foster care.
$250,000 Settlement (California 2020): The plaintiff in this case alleged that when he was an inmate at a juvenile detention center, he was sexually assaulted by one of the guards on 4 separate occasions. He reported the incidents, but the defendant did not take any action against the officer and the staff at the facility allegedly retaliated against him for making the report.
$504,604 Settlement (California 2020): The plaintiff was put in a foster home and then sexually abused by an older boy who was also living at the home. Despite reporting the incident, he was left in the home after which he was assaulted again. A guardian for the boy brought a lawsuit against the County and the foster care agency.
$625,000 Settlement (California 2019): A minor female was allegedly sexually abused by the head of a youth club funded by the county. She filed suit against the County claiming that it knew or should have known about the coach’s propensity to engage in this conduct and that they were aware of the incidents but did nothing to stop it.
$325,000 Settlement (California 2019): The plaintiff, an adult female, claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a correctional officer on several occasions while she an inmate at a county jail. The lawsuit alleged that the County knew about the officer’s issues and negligently allowed him to continue supervising women inmates.
Eight Steps if You Are the Victim of Sexual Assault in California
If you are a victim of sexual assault in California, there are certainly things that you should do to prepare for a potential legal claim. But, more important than that is to prioritize your safety. Here are things to keep in mind:
- Ensure your immediate safety: The first and most important step is to get yourself to a safe place, away from the perpetrator. Sex abuse victims often do not fully appreciate how much people want to help victims. Reach out to a friend, family member, or a nearby safe location where you feel secure.
- Seek medical attention: Even if you don’t think you have sustained any physical injuries, it is crucial to get a medical examination. A healthcare professional can assess your condition, treat any injuries, and collect evidence that could be useful in a legal case. In California, you can undergo a forensic medical exam within 120 hours (5 days) of the assault to collect vital evidence. Remember to avoid showering, changing clothes, or cleaning up in any way, as this may destroy crucial evidence.
- Report the assault to the police: Reporting the incident to the police is an essential step in seeking justice and holding the perpetrator accountable. You can choose to report the assault immediately or at a later time. In California, there is no statute of limitations for rape, sodomy, lewd acts with a child, or continuous sexual abuse of a child. For other forms of sexual assault, the statute of limitations varies, but it is generally better to report as soon as possible. Reporting as soon as possible makes it easier for everyone who wants to assist you in bringing about justice in the criminal and civil justice systems.
- Preserve evidence: If you decide to pursue legal action, preserving evidence can help strengthen your case. Save any clothing you were wearing at the time of the assault, as well as any other items that could serve as evidence, such as text messages or photographs. Keep them in a safe place and avoid tampering with them.
- Reach out for support: Coping with the emotional and psychological effects of sexual assault can be challenging. Reach out to friends, family, or a counselor for emotional support. You can also connect with local or national organizations, such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which operates a 24/7 hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
- Seek legal advice: It is never too early to talk to a California sexual assault attorney. You do not need to hire someone right away. But you do need to understand your rights and legal options.
- Apply for a restraining order: If you fear for your safety, one option is to apply for a restraining order against the perpetrator.
- Be kind to yourself: Healing from a sexual assault can be a long and challenging journey. Prioritize your mental and emotional well-being by seeking therapy or counseling, joining a support group, or engaging in activities that promote relaxation and healing, such as meditation or exercise.
Hiring a California Sex Abuse Lawyer
Our law firm handles sex abuse lawsuits in California and across the nation. Get information about where you begin and what this path will look like. We truly care about what you have been through. You can get a free no-obligation consultation online or call us today at 800-553-8082.