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 examine the process and laws related to sex abuse lawsuits in California. We will also examine the average settlement amounts of these cases and provide examples of settlements and jury payouts.
If you have a sex abuse case in California, contact us today.
California Sex Abuse Updates
February 21, 2024: New Human Trafficking Lawsuit
A woman initiated a lawsuit in a California federal court against the operators of hotels under the Wyndham brand, including Ramada and Super8, for their alleged complicity in her sex trafficking ordeal beginning in 2013. The complaint accuses the hotel owners of profiting from and facilitating sex trafficking by ignoring evident signs of exploitation that trained employees should have recognized. The allegations in this human trafficking lawsuit highlight a broader issue within the hotel industry – too many people are willing to look the other way.
The lawsuit asserts that the defendants, including franchisors and franchisees, were aware or should have been aware of the ongoing sex trafficking within their properties but failed to take meaningful action to stop it. This inaction, according to the complaint, amounted to a conscious decision to benefit financially from the exploitation of victims.
This woman is filing a lawsuit to hold these entities accountable for their role in perpetuating a safe environment for traffickers and failing to protect her and others from being trafficked, demanding compensation for the damages she endured as a result.
February 12, 2024 – Archdiocese of San Francisco Needs More Time
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco has requested a three-month extension from a California bankruptcy judge to submit its Chapter 11 reorganization plan.
This is a pretty common page from the “defend sex abuse lawsuits” playbook. It is in line with strategies from past diocesan bankruptcies, focusing on mediation with claimants of childhood sexual abuse towards reaching a consensual agreement. These folks wisely do not want a trial. It is also worth noting that many of the people defending these lawsuits do feel for these victims. We do not want to suggest otherwise. But, that said, some of the tactics you see in these lawsuits are not coming from a place of love and understanding of the suffering victims have endured.
The extension aims to provide the archdiocese with adequate time to address the complex demands of over 500 sexual abuse claims, in addition to navigating communications with insurers and managing extensive document requests. The archdiocese, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in September to handle lawsuits triggered by a 2020 California law that lifted the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, seeks to extend the exclusive right to propose a reorganization plan until June 25 and to solicit plan votes until August 26.
February 8, 2024 – Los Angeles Sex Abuse Lawsuit Revived
In Arellano v. Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her case for wrongful termination after a sexual assault.
How could this possibly make sense. The case was dismissed because her claim of constructive wrongful termination in violation of public policy could not stand because the sexual assault she experienced was a single incident and because the defendants did not knowingly allow or intentionally create intolerable working conditions.
This poor woman worked as a janitor for the parish when she was sexually assaulted by an associate pastor, Father Primitivo Gonzalez, in his living quarters. This incident led to her being diagnosed with PTSD and depression, and she was later declared permanently unfit to resume work at the parish. Despite reporting the incident and the subsequent actions taken by the parish, such as Gonzalez being removed and the parish being notified, she sued for constructive wrongful termination.
The appellate court reversed, thankfully. The court found that a single incident of misconduct, particularly a violent crime such as sexual assault, could be considered as creating intolerable working conditions.
February 6, 2024 – Friends with Benefits Question
Does a “friends with benefits” relationship falls under the category of a “dating relationship” according to Family Code section 6210, which could then support a domestic violence tort claim? That is the question decided by the 4th Appellate District this week.
Before we get into it, why does this matter? A classification of a relationship is crucial in California because it impacts whether the plaintiff can claim damages for domestic violence.
So in this case, the plaintiff, M.A., filed a lawsuit against the defendant, B.F., alleging domestic violence and sexual battery after an incident where B.F. forcefully pulled her hair while in a car, causing her physical injuries. The plaintiff argued that they were in a dating relationship at the time of the incident. The defendant disagreed, calling it basically “friends with benefits.” An Orange County trial judge supported the defendant’s view, finding that there was not a dating relationship as defined by law, and thus ruled in the defendant’s favor.
M.A. appealed this decision, arguing that their “friends with benefits” relationship should be considered a dating relationship under the law, which would allow for a domestic violence claim. She suggested that the definition of a “dating relationship” should be broadened to include modern forms of relationships.
The court found that over 19 months, M.A. and B.F. had only met in person eight times, and the interactions were not deemed to be frequent or intimate enough to constitute a “dating relationship” as defined by the Family Code section 6210. This section defines a “dating relationship” as frequent, intimate associations with the expectation of affection or sexual involvement, independent of financial considerations.
February 5, 2024 – Lizzo Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Some claims against singer Lizzo, filed by her former dancers, have been dismissed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week. But the claims that really matter – sexual harassment and racial discrimination- will move forward.
The allegations allowed to move forward involve claims that a tour manager subjected the dancers to inappropriate sexual and religious comments, Lizzo coerced them into attending sexually explicit shows, and created a hostile work environment, among other accusations.
January 4, 2024 – The Franciscan Friars of California Bankruptcy
The Franciscan Friars of California Inc. has sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at a California court, citing a surge in lawsuits triggered by the sex abuse law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims. The Roman Catholic organization, responsible for founding and maintaining Mission Santa Barbara in Buellton, California, faces 94 child sex abuse lawsuits.
Like so many church entities, bankruptcy was thought to be the best option. They claim it is also the most equitable solution but that is a hard argument to buy. The bankruptcy filing shows the group’s liabilities ranging from $10 million to $50 million, against assets of $1 million to $10 million. The organization runs several religious ministries, retreat centers, two cemeteries, and a theological graduate school affiliated with the University of San Diego.
December 29, 2023 – Uber Sex Abuse Lawsuits
The Uber sexual assault lawsuit in California is expected to heat up in 2024. Our firm is reviewing these cases. These lawsuits range from inappropriate comments to rape and kidnapping.
October 10, 2023 – Holding Social Media Companies Accountable, Part 2
Governor Gavin Newsom approved a bill on Sunday, known as A.B. 1349, that holds social media platforms accountable for sharing child sexual abuse material. Introduced by Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Heath Flora, this law, effective from 2025, permits lawsuits against such platforms if they display this illicit content.
The legislation received unanimous support in both the state Senate and Assembly. Advocates view this as a significant move toward ensuring online safety for children. The bill demands platforms to address reports of child abuse material and block related content. Failure to do so can lead to lawsuits, with fines ranging from $75,000 to $250,000 per incident.
Additionally, platforms may face charges of up to $4 million if they knowingly use algorithms promoting the commercial exploitation of minors. However, platforms that cooperate in audits and rectify issues won’t be penalized. While the tech industry has raised concerns about potential conflicts with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, changes were made to the bill to address some of these reservations.
September 14, 2023 – – Holding Social Media Companies Accountable, Part 2
The California Assembly has passed A.B. 1349, a bill targeting social media platforms that distribute child sexual abuse material. Sponsored by Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (D) and Heath Flora (R), the legislation mandates platforms to address and remove such content. Non-compliance could result in lawsuits with fines up to $250,000 per incident, though partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lowers the fine to $75,000.
The bill also includes penalties for platforms knowingly using algorithms promoting the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Some tech companies have voiced concerns about potential conflicts with existing laws protecting platforms from user-generated content liability. Adjustments were made to the bill to alleviate these concerns.
June 19, 2023 – Sacramento Diocese Bankruptcy
The Sacramento Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is considering bankruptcy. It faces over 200 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors
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 a 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 a minor will automatically constitute sexual abuse or battery.
Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse or Assault in California
Under California law, anyone who is a 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 a public record, California’s rules of civil procedure allow victims in these cases to conceal their names and identities in publicly filed court documents. For example, if Jessica Smith files a sexual abuse lawsuit, 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.
How Much Can You Sue for in a California Sexual Assault?
There is no specific cap on the amount you can sue for in a sexual assault lawsuit in California. Damages in sex abuse cases can be both economic – covering things like medical expenses and lost wages – and non-economic for pain, suffering, and emotional distress. The total amount that can be sued depends on the specifics of the case, including the severity of the harm caused, the impact on the victim’s life, and any punitive damages awarded.
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 certain 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. After you have your immediate safety squared away, figure out if there are longer-term safety risks and how to protect against those risks.
- 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 and make it safer for the next victim. 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.
Key California Sex Assault Appellate Law
Below are some of the key appellate court decisions in California sex abuse cases:
Jane S.D. Doe v. Superior Court (2023)
This case involves a former student, Jane Doe, suing a school district over claims of sexual molestation by a teacher. The school district wanted to introduce evidence of a separate molestation incident involving Doe to challenge her credibility regarding emotional distress damages.
The Supreme Court clarified that while certain evidence of a plaintiff’s sexual conduct is generally not admissible to prove consent or the absence of injury, there is an exception that allows such evidence to be used to attack the credibility of the plaintiff, provided procedural safeguards are followed.
The court found that the trial court did not properly apply these procedures, including not holding a required hearing and not specifying what evidence could be introduced and how.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court correctly questioned the lower court’s application of the law regarding the admissibility of evidence under the discretion to exclude evidence that might be more prejudicial than probative. The Supreme Court emphasized the need for careful scrutiny to protect the complainant’s privacy rights and prevent unnecessary intrusion into their personal lives.
The court sent the case back to the trial court to follow the Supreme Court’s guidance, including, thankfully, a proper examination of the admissibility of the evidence concerning the separate molestation incident and its relevance to the plaintiff’s credibility and emotional distress damages.
The California Court of Appeal tackled the issue of whether two corporations owned by Michael Jackson, MJJ Productions, Inc., and MJJ Ventures, Inc., had a legal duty to protect two children from alleged sexual abuse.
The court concluded that a corporation cannot avoid a duty to protect children from sexual abuse by its employees, including its sole owner, based solely on its corporate structure. It found that the corporations facilitated Jackson’s access to the plaintiffs, thereby having an affirmative duty to protect them. This duty exists despite the corporations being solely owned by Jackson, the alleged abuser.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuits, like the case below, were initially dismissed due to statute limitations, but legislative changes made their claims timely, leading to the reversal of the dismissal. The court found the corporations’ arguments—that they could not control Jackson because he was their sole owner—unpersuasive. It emphasized that entities in a position to prevent harm have a duty to do so, particularly when the welfare of children is at stake.
The decision was influenced by the principle that organizations should take cost-effective steps to prevent foreseeable harm, especially to vulnerable individuals like children. This case highlighted the courts’ role in enforcing such principles, ensuring entities cannot evade their responsibilities through corporate structures or the power dynamics within those structures.
This case is not interesting because it involves someone famous. The ruling has broader implications for every California abuse case. This is a lesson on how organizations are held accountable for protecting individuals from abuse, especially in cases where the abuser is in a position of power or control. It sends a clear message that corporations, regardless of their ownership structure, have a duty to protect from foreseeable harm, reinforcing the importance of prioritizing the safety and well-being of vulnerable individuals over corporate interests or hierarchies.
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.