Florida Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault have the right to file civil lawsuits and get financial compensation. Recent changes in the law are now making it easier for abuse victims to seek justice in the civil courts. This post will discuss how sex abuse victims can file civil lawsuits in Florida and look at the potential settlement value of these cases.

How Does Florida Define Sex Abuse?

For purposes of a civil lawsuit, sexual abuse and sexual assault have the same definition in Florida as they do in the criminal law context. Under Florida law, sexual abuse is defined as intentional sexual contact or touching (either directly or through clothing) of the intimate parts of another person for the express purpose of gratifying the abuser or degrading the victim. This definition covers everything from forcible rape to groping.

The hallmark that defines all types and categories of sexual abuse or assault is the lack of consent. In the absence of consent, any form of sexual contact is actionable as sexual abuse or assault. Minors (under the age of 18) lack the legal capacity to give consent to sexual contact. Therefore, any intentional sexual contact by an adult with a minor is necessarily considered sexual abuse.

Florida’s Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

A statute of limitations is basically a strict legal deadline for how long someone has to file a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is not filed before the statute of limitations passes, the plaintiffs lose their right to sue forever.

Florida has a somewhat complicated statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse. The applicable SOL period in Florida varies depending on whether the victim was a child (under age 18) at the time the abuse occurred.

Child Victims

If the victim was a child when the abuse occurred, they have 7 years after they reach the age of majority (18) to file a lawsuit – so they have until their 25th birthday

Adult Victims

If the sexual abuse occurred after the victim turned 18, the victim has 4 years after they leave the dependency of the abuser; or 4 years from the time they “discover” that they were injured by the abuse. Fla. Stat. § 95.11(7)

Florida Statutes Section 95.11

Let’s break this statute down so we understand what we are dealing with in terms of the statute of limitations in Florida sex abuse cases.

Florida Statutes Section 95.11 outlines the general statutes of limitations for various types of actions in Florida Subsection (7) for “intentional torts based on abuse” and subsection (9) for “specified offenses on victims under age 16” are particularly relevant for civil sexual abuse cases.

Subsection (7): Intentional Torts Based on Abuse

This subsection specifies that actions founded on alleged abuse, including sexual abuse, may be commenced within seven years after the victim reaches the age of majority (which is 18 in Florida) or within four years after the victim leaves the dependency of the abuser, or within four years from the time of discovery by the injured party of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse, whichever occurs later. This provision aims to provide victims of abuse with a more extended period to bring forth a lawsuit, acknowledging that it often takes time for victims to come to terms with the abuse and its impact on their lives and seems and certainly seems to allow for repressed memory as a defense to missing the deadline to file a sexual abuse claim against the perpetrator.

Subsection (9): Specified Offenses on Victims Under Age 16

This subsection states that an action related to an act constituting a violation of Florida Statute 794.011 – that statute that defines sexual battery and it defines it broadly – involving a victim who was under the age of 16 at the time of the act can be filed at any time So this effectively removes the statute of limitations for such offenses, recognizing the particularly heinous nature of sexual offenses against minors and the need for justice, regardless of how much time has passed since the offense occurred.

What This Statute Means

Before our attorneys wrote this page, we read pages from other Florida sex abuse lawyers.  No one seems to answer the question cleanly that matters most. Is there a path to bring a sex assault lawsuit in Florida if a significant amount of time has passed since the abuse?  Let’s try and answer that question.

Florida law is very flexible about allowing children to sue their perpetrators.  The provisions directly allow survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits against the perpetrators of the abuse within the specified time frames, with certain types of abuse having no statute of limitations depending on the victim’s age at the time of the offense.

But, in practical terms, compensation for a Florida sex abuse lawsuit rarely involves compensation from the perpetrator because unless it is a Harvey Weinstein/Jeffery Epstein-type situation, the abuser does not have the money to compensate the victims.  So while the statute directly addresses actions against the abusers, lawsuits against institutions that negligently enabled the abuse would generally fall under claims of negligence, and that would have a two-year statute of limitations.   So, in a child clergy abuse lawsuit, you could file a lawsuit years later against the get verdict against the priest, but the statute of limitations would have passed for the claim against the church.

Example of the Florida Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations in Action

In Doe v. Archdiocese of Miami Inc. (2023), the District Court of Appeal of Florida addressed an appeal from “John Doe”, who sought damages against the Archdiocese of Miami for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress related to sexual abuse by a priest when Doe was a minor. The trial court had dismissed Doe’s clergy sex abuse lawsuit, citing the statute of limitations.

John Doe, who was 29 at the time of filing the lawsuit, claimed that the Archdiocese was negligent in failing to protect him from sexual abuse and that its intentional acts of ignoring and concealing accusations of child sexual abuse directly resulted in his emotional distress. The abuse allegedly occurred dozens of times between 1999 and 2001, when Doe was between seven and nine years old.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the negligence claim based on the statute of limitations, which expired four years after the alleged abuse occurred. However, the court reversed the dismissal of the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.  Why?  Because that conduct was intentional.

This decision was based on the Florida Statute § 95.11(9) that we have been talking about, which allows actions related to sexual battery involving a victim under the age of 16 to be commenced “at any time,” provided the claim was not time-barred before July 1, 2010. Since Doe’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was related to sexual battery and he was under 16 at the time of the abuse, the appellate court ruled that his claim could be brought at any time.

The court’s analysis also touched on the application of Florida Statute § 95.11(7) regarding intentional torts based on abuse. The court disagreed with the Archdiocese’s argument that this statute only applies to individual abusers, not institutions. It affirmed that the statute’s broad definitions of abuse include acts by institutions, allowing Doe’s IIED claim against the Archdiocese for its own alleged intentional acts related to the sexual battery.

Is the fact that the court allowed the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim to go forward a big deal?   Is it effectively an end-run around the statute of limitations?  No and no, unfortunately. The reality is that it will prove impossible in most cases to marshal evidence to support that intentional infliction claim.

The Florida Supreme Court refused to hear this appeal.

Holding Third Parties Liable for Sexual Abuse in Florida

If someone has been sexually abused or attacked, they have the right to sue in civil court to get compensation. This means they can ask for money to make up for what happened. Even if they didn’t tell anyone about the abuse or didn’t go to the police, they can still take legal action.

But who can they sue? Well, they can sue the person who hurt them, but that might not lead to getting any money, especially if that person is already dead or in jail.

The main aim of a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse is to hold another party responsible. Holding third parties liable is the key to financial success in these cases. This could be someone else who was supposed to protect the victim but didn’t. For instance, if the abuse happened at school, the school might be responsible for not stopping it or looking into complaints about the abuser. Other examples of these responsible parties could be churches, organizations like the Boy Scouts, or any group where the abuse took place because they didn’t take proper care to prevent it.

But, again, all of this is limited by the statute of limitations.

Settlement Value of Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Florida

Successful plaintiffs in a sexual abuse civil lawsuit are entitled to receive all the same types of damages as plaintiffs in normal tort cases. These include medical expenses, lost wages or earnings potential, and mental pain and suffering. Florida also allows punitive damages to be awarded in sexual abuse cases.

Sex abuse claims have a very high average settlement amounts because juries tend to get offended by the stories of children being sexually abused. This often leads to very big jury payouts with massive pain and suffering awards which factor into the settlement price tag.

Also, many third-party defendants in sex abuse cases (e.g., schools, churches, etc.) are very eager to settle these cases to avoid negative publicity and protect their public image. This additional incentive often prompts third-party defendants to make bigger settlement offers to get the case resolved quickly.

Florida Sex Abuse Lawsuits Against Doctors

Over recent years, there has been a notable increase in lawsuits against doctors for sexual abuse across the country, including in Florida. Women – the victims are mostly women – are just less willing to tolerate men acting inappropriately regardless of their position.

Sexual abuse lawsuits against doctors in Florida are not medical malpractice lawsuits.  They are sexual battery lawsuits. Florida law defines sexual battery as non-consensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object. When a doctor commits sexual battery or abuse, it is a criminal act, and it also gives rise to civil liability.

Victims can sue doctors and health care providers for damages, including pain and suffering, medical expenses, and loss of income.

Florida Sex Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

  • $49,268,906 Verdict: Plaintiff alleged that she was sexually abused by defendant between September and December of 2013 while she was a sixteen-year-old student at South Dade High School in Homestead, FL. Defendant was employed as a teacher at the school during that time, and plaintiff was one of his students. The acts of sexual misconduct were alleged to have occurred inside the school during school hours and inside defendant’s classroom. Plaintiff claimed that defendant sexually abused her on numerous occasions by engaging in oral sex and digital penetration of her vagina and that the abuse escalated to rape. The rape and unlawful sexual relationship was discovered by a former student, who e-mailed the school’s principal. An investigation revealed numerous sexually explicit text messages and photographs sent to plaintiff by defendant.
  • $3,000,000 Verdict: Plaintiff claimed that her five- year-old daughter was sexually abused while attending defendant Discovery Day Care. The Director of the facility allegedly allowed her teenage son to visit and stay with her while she worked. Plaintiff claimed that defendant was negligent in the supervision of the kids and that the teenage boy sexually abused her daughter at the day care during naptime. The abuse included inappropriate touching and having the 5-year-old girl perform oral sex on the 13-year-old boy.
  • $19,200,000 Verdict: The plaintiff alleged she was sexually abused by the defendant, for five years when was 3-8 years old. The defendant was a relative and the abuse, which included oral sex and vaginal penetration, took place in their shared residence. The plaintiff that the defendant committed sexual offenses against her at least 400 times.
  • $70,000 Verdict: The plaintiff was a single mother working as a topless dancer. She alleged that the defendant, a police officer, coerced her into a sexual relationship by having her arrested on an allegedly false drug charge and then threatening her with prosecution and taking her away from her child if she did not have sex with him.
  • $500,000 Verdict: The plaintiff alleged that she was sexually abused by a tattoo artist when she went to get a tattoo. She sued the tattoo shop owner claiming that she knew or should have known that the tattoo artist had a history of similar actions. On at least one prior occasion the tattoo artist had been accused of sexually assaulting a client.

Contact Us About Florida Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

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

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