Delaware Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of sexual abuse or assault, either as a child or an adult, you have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against both your abuser and any school, company, or organization that might be liable for the abuse.

In this post, we will provide a brief overview of sexual abuse lawsuits in Delaware. We will explain the applicable statute of limitations for sex abuse civil cases in Delaware and the potential settlement value of these cases.

What is Considered Sex Abuse in Delaware

Sexual assault or abuse is defined as intentional sexual touching or contact without the other person’s consent and for the purpose of sexual gratification, arousal, or humiliation. In the context of a civil lawsuit, sexual abuse or assault is often referred to as sexual battery, and it can range from groping a breast to rape.

There are two key components that must be present to meet the definition of sexual abuse in Delaware. First, the sexual touching must be done intentionally. If one inadvertently grabs a student’s breast vagina in a crowded elevator or to catch them from falling, there is no intent, and it does not qualify as sexual abuse.

The second element is the lack of consent. For intentional sexual touching to qualify as abuse or assault, it must be done without mutual consent. Under Delaware law, minors under the age of 18 cannot give consent to sexual touching. Any sexual contact with a minor by an adult is automatically considered sexual battery.

So if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student, that would be sexual battery even if the student willingly participated and consented. The 16-year-old did not have the legal capacity to consent to sexual contact with the adult teacher.

When Can Abuse Victims Sue?

The person who committed the sexual assault or abuse with always be a primary defendant in any sexual battery lawsuit. Suing the abuser is often pointless, however, because they typically will not have the financial resources to pay for any settlement or verdict in the case. Suing the abuser only makes sense in a civil case if they are rich.

The key to financial success in a Delaware sex abuse lawsuit is going after a third-party organizational defendant with deep pockets, like a church, school, or corporation. These parties can be held liable in a civil case if the plaintiff can show that their negligence somehow enabled the abuse to occur or to continue. Third parties in sex abuse lawsuits can also be held liable if they attempt to cover up abuse incidents afterward.

The burden of proof required to establish sexual battery in a civil case is notably lighter compared to that in a criminal trial. This means that it is much easier for a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to demonstrate the occurrence of sexual abuse or assault. So even if an offender evades criminal prosecution, they can still be held liable in a civil court of law.

Holding Third Parties Liable for Sexual Abuse in Delaware

The most direct defendant in any sexual abuse lawsuit is the person who committed the abuse. The problem with suing the abuser is that they might already be dead or in jail, and even if they are still around, they may not have money or financial resources to pay for any compensation awarded in the case. Going after the abuser only makes sense in a civil case if they are wealthy.

The best way to get money in a civil sex abuse lawsuit is to sue a third party for negligence in connection with the abuse. Common examples of third parties who can be sued in sex abuse lawsuits include schools, youth organizations, churches, gyms, etc. These parties can be held liable in a child sex abuse lawsuit if the plaintiff can show that their negligence somehow enabled the abuse to occur or to continue. Third parties in sex abuse lawsuits can also be held liable if they attempt to cover up abuse incidents after the fact.

The following example will help illustrate how third parties can be liable in sexual assault cases. Let’s assume that Jane was a student at a private school in Wilmington. In 7th grade, Jane’s teacher, Mr. Jones, sexually abused Jane. The school had previously received complaints and other warnings suggesting that Mr. Jones may be a sexual predator, including prior allegations of abuse by former female students and incidents of highly inappropriate behavior. Jane (or her parents) can file a civil lawsuit against the private school for negligently failing to investigate Mr. Jones and prevent him from abusing students.

Delaware Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

In 2007, Delaware amended its statute of limitations law to make it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits. The 2007 law completely eliminated all SOL deadlines for civil lawsuits based on child sexual abuse. The law also created a 2-year lookback window for revival claims (i.e., claims that had previously expired) based on child sexual abuse. Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 8145(a)

  • Although the new law Delaware enacted in 2007 appears to be very progressive and victim friendly, it came with a very significant limitation. The unlimited SOL and the revival window created under Delaware’s new SOL statute for child sex abuse really only applies to claims against the perpetrator. Claims for child sex abuse against third-parties like schools or churches are only permitted under the law if the plaintiff can prove that the third-part acted with “gross negligence.” Gross negligence is a very high standard that would be exceedingly difficult to establish against a church, school or other third-party defendant in a sex abuse case.

Delaware Sex Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

Below are summaries of verdicts and settlements in Delaware sexual abuse lawsuits.

$77,400,000 Settlement: In a massive settlement, the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington created a $77 million settlement fund to compensation a group of around 150 victims who claimed that they were sexually abused by priests. Each victim received compensation around $500,000. The settlement occurred within the chapter 11 bankruptcy filed by the diocese.

$1,500,000 Settlement: The Diocese of Wilmington settled a claim by single victim who alleged that he was sexually abused by Rev. Edward Carley, a known pedophile who was credibly accused of abusing numerous children while assigned to St. Ann’s Church in Wilmington.

$850,000 Verdict: 17-year-old male employed by defendants Jeffrey Bruette, 49-years-old, and Brian Kuehn, 33-years-old, owners and operators of defendant online retailer Great Stuff Inc., claimed he suffered extreme emotional distress after he was provided with alcohol and drugs, and was thereafter sexually molested by Bruette and Kuehn on multiple occasions. Jury awarded $50,000 in compensatory damages against Kuehn, $30,000 in compensatory damages against Bruette, $200,000 in punitive damages against Kuehn, $200,000 in punitive damages against Bruette.

$68,000 Settlement: A 12-year-old male suffered emotional distress when he was sexually molested by a nonparty priest at his church, under the supervision and direction of the defendant diocese. The plaintiff contended that he was forced to engage in sexual conduct with the priest, that the defendant had knowledge of similar past activities engaged in by the priest, that it failed to warn the public of his sexual deviancy, and breached its duty of care to the minor plaintiff.

$450,000 Settlement: A man who went on to become a doctor in the Navy alleged that he was sexually abused as a child by Reverend Edward Smith at Archmere Academy in Wilmington. The Diocese agreed to pay $450,000 to settle the claim.

Delaware Sex Abuse News & Updates

June 24, 2024: A court partially denied Lawrence Woodmere Academy’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by teacher Robert Daly from 2009 to 2012. The court ruled the academy failed to prove it had no constructive notice of Daly’s actions or that its supervision of Daly and the plaintiff was adequate. Despite Daly’s status as a new teacher, he was allowed to excessively interact with and touch the plaintiff over three years. However, the court dismissed the claim based on negligent hiring.

June 15, 2024: A woman from Maryland’s eastern shore recently filed a lawsuit against Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic order in Delaware. The lawsuit claims that she was sexually abused as a child by members of the order.

March, 2, 2024: The Maryland Attorney General has expanded its investigation of child sexual abuse beyond its borders to neighboring jurisdictions. The AG’s office is now seeking testimony from child sexual abuse victims that were abused by clergy in the catholic diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.

Contact Us About Delaware Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in Delaware, contact us today at 800-553-8082 or reach out to us online.

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