Victims of sexual abuse in Illinois can file civil lawsuits and receive significant financial settlements. This post will examine the process and laws related to sex abuse lawsuits in Illinois. We will also review the average settlement value of these cases and provide examples of settlements and verdicts.
September 2023 – $19 Million Verdict in Sex Abuse Case: An Illinois federal jury has awarded over $19 million to a woman, identified as Jane Doe, who accused her prison counselor, Richard Macleod, of raping and sexually assaulting her for seven months while she served a prison sentence at Logan Correctional Center.
The jury deliberated for just four hours before awarding Jane Doe an $8 million payout in compensatory damages and $11.3 million in punitive damages. These punitive damages include $10 million from Macleod, $800,000 from the head prison investigator, and $500,000 from the warden. How did this end up in federal court? Her Illinois sex abuse lawsuit alleged that the abuse violated her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
May 2023 – Illinois Attorney General Releases Report on Sex Abuse By Catholic Clergy: The Illinois Attorney General’s office released an investigation detailing decades of sexual abuse of children committed by priests and religious brothers. The report is the result of an extensive investigation, and it covers several decades. It found credible evidence to support claims that 451 clergy members sexually abused nearly 2,000 children.
What is Sexual Abuse or Assault in Illinois?
Sexual abuse or sexual assault can range from forcible rape to groping. Sexual abuse or assault can be the basis for a civil lawsuit, but the definition of these acts comes the criminal law. Under Illinois law, the crime of “Criminal Sexual Abuse” is defined as follows:
(a) A person commits criminal sexual abuse if that person: (1) commits an act of sexual conduct by the use of force or threat of force; or (2) commits an act of sexual conduct and knows that the victim is unable to understand the nature of the act or is unable to give knowing consent.
In the context of civil lawsuits, sexual abuse under this definition 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) sexual conduct, and (2) lack of consent. For sexual battery to occur in Illinois, there must be an act or actions that fit the definition of “sexual conduct,” which means sexual touching intentionally done for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal. Intent is the key here. If someone accidentally touches private parts in a crowded elevator there is no intent and it is not sexual battery.
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 in Illinois
Any victim of sexual abuse or assault has the ability to file a civil lawsuit under Illinois law and seek monetary compensation. Abuse victims can bring a civil lawsuit regardless of whether criminal charges were brought for the abuse. In fact, victims can sue 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 about the abuse under oath. Additional evidence, such as medical records showing physical injuries resulting from the assault, can be used to support the claims. Testimony from other factual witnesses can also be presented.
Holding 3rd Parties Liable in Sex Abuse Lawsuits
The individual person who committed the abuse or assault is always a potential defendant in a civil lawsuit. In many cases, however, that individual probably won’t have enough money to pay a verdict or settlement for the lawsuit or they may already be dead or in jail. Except in rare cases where the abuser is someone rich and famous, suing them will not get you very much.
The succeed in a sex abuse lawsuit plaintiffs need to bring negligence claims against 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.
Illinois Statute of Limitations in 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. Over the last few years, a growing number of states have enacted new laws extending or completely lifting their statute of limitations for child sex abuse civil lawsuits. So far, however, Illinois has not amended its statute of limitations for civil sex abuse claims.
Civil lawsuits based on sexual abuse in Illinois by a priest or anyone else are still subject to the general 2-year statute of limitations. When the victim is a child when the abuse occurs, the 2-year SOL clock does not begin to run until they turn 18.
So child sex abuse victims have until their 20th birthday to file suit. 735 ILCS 5/13-211.
An appellate court in Illinois recently upheld the dismissal of a sex abuse civil lawsuit in Doe v. Lake Forest High School, alleging that the plaintiff was sexually abused by staff at his high school because failed to file the case before his 20th birthday.
In 2021, Illinois passed two notable legislations collectively referred to as Faith’s Law. These laws were initiated to address issues related to sexual misconduct within schools.
The initial legislation, known as Public Act 102-0676, solidified the definition of sexual misconduct under the School Code. This act also mandates schools to formulate and display their employee code of professional conduct policies. A subsequent piece of legislation, Public Act 102-0702, that became effective on July 1, 2023, emphasizes the prevention of “sexual misconduct” as defined in the prior act by staff in various capacities: school employees, substitutes, and contractors.
Key highlights of Faith’s Law include:
- A clear definition of sexual misconduct, covers intentional or careless acts by school employees, substitutes, or contractors with a sexual implication. This encompasses:
- Sexual assault
- Sexual battery
- Indecent exposure
- Unlawful restraint
- Any other actions deemed as sexual misconduct under federal or state legislation.
The act codifies what you hope schools were doing anyway, requiring them to:
- Create and display policies surrounding professional conduct, especially highlighting the definition of sexual misconduct.
- Expect employees to report any suspicions of such misconduct to the administration.
- Conduct thorough background verifications for all employees and contractors.
- Impart training on preventing sexual misconduct.
- Inform parents/guardians and the concerned student about any alleged sexual misconduct.
- Implement other protocols when dealing with sexual misconduct allegations.
The law honors Faith Colson, a prevention advocate and survivor of child sexual abuse. Having graduated from an Illinois high school in the early 2000s and undergone abuse by a teacher, Faith Colson became a beacon of change. She collaborated with legislators and advocates to bring Faith’s Law into existence, aspiring to shield other children from experiencing such trauma.
How Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Illinois Are Evaluated for Settlement
The settlement value of Illinois sex abuse lawsuits is driven by various factors. These factors help determine the appropriate settlement amount and the likelihood of reaching an agreement between the parties involved.
- Evidentiary Strength: Cases in which the sex abuse allegations are well supported by strong, reliable external evidence such as medical records or witness testimony will have a higher settlement value because the plaintiff is more likely to win at trial.
- Nature of the Abuse: The nature and type of sexual abuse in the case have a major impact on settlement value. Sex abuse of a child or sexual assault involving violence or force is going to be worth more compared to abuse that involves an adult victim where consent is contested.
- 3rd Party Liability Theory: Usually, to have real settlement value there needs to be a viable claim against a third-party defendant like a school, or church. Cases with stronger negligence theories against these third parties will have a higher settlement value.
- Who Your Lawyer Is: The experience, skill, and reputation of your sex abuse lawyer play a major role in the settlement value of your case. The average settlement for clergy abuse is certainly higher for victims who hire one of the best sex abuse lawyers in Illinois.
Illinois Sex Abuse Verdicts And Settlements
Below are summaries of reported settlements and jury verdicts from prior Illinois sex abuse lawsuits. These verdicts and settlements are helpful as a comparative tool for understanding the potential value of your case. They are not, however, a guarantee of value in your case because the facts and circumstances of each case are highly unique.
- $19,000,000 Verdict (Federal Court in Chicago 2023): We do not talk enough about sexual abuse inflicted upon prisoners. In this case, a woman courageously came forward with allegations of rape and sexual assault during her seven-month incarceration at Logan Correctional Center in Logan County. It is sometimes hard to get people to believe prisoners. But someone did here. The jury awarded $19 million in a verdict that offers hope for meaningful reform in the way prisons handle reports of sexual assault.
- $950,000 Settlement (Kane County 2022): The plaintiff claimed that while she was a kindergarten student at an elementary school operated by defendant East Aurora School District 131, she was allegedly sexually abused by her teacher. According to the plaintiff’s mother, there had been previous allegations of sexual misconduct made by another minor student regarding the teacher, but the school failed to properly investigate the allegations and did nothing to stop the abuse.
- $3,600,000 Settlement (Cook County): The Roman Catholic Diocese of Chicago settlement claims by 2 victims who alleged that the were sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy members as children and the church ignored and/or covered up the allegations. One victim received $2.1 million and the other received $1.5 million.
- $500,000 Settlement (N.D. Illinois 2020): The plaintiff claimed that while he was an inmate in the Cook County jail, a Sheriff Deputy working as a guard at the jail forced the plaintiff into a physical sexual relationship that lasted for nine months. The defendant agreed to settle the case for $500k.
- $380,000 Settlement (N.D. Illinois 2019): Jane Doe, a 26-year-old caucasian female, a former medical student, and a law student at the time of this incident, was housed as an inmate of Cook County Jail when she reportedly suffered sexual assault including digital penetration by a fellow inmate who was incarnated for homicide. The plaintiff alleged that the staff at the jail informed her that due to her ethnicity and ‘look’, she would have a hard time, failed to provide the plaintiff with protection, and housed a minimum security inmate in a maximum security wing.
Hiring an Illinois Sex Abuse Lawyer
If you were the victim of sexual abuse and think that you have a potential claim and you want justice, click here for a free no-obligation consultation or call us today at 800-553-8082.