Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault can file civil lawsuits against their abuser and other third parties such as schools, churches, etc. Our sex abuse lawyers help victims get financial compensation by filing civil lawsuits against parties who negligently allowed the abuse to occur or failed to prevent. New laws in Maryland have made it easier for victims of childhood sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits, even when the abuse occurred decades ago.
In this post, we will discuss the process of filing a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse in Maryland. We will look at the relevant laws regarding sex abuse lawsuits and look at the average settlement value of these cases.
What is Sexual Abuse or Assault?
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are broadly defined as intentional touching or contact that is done 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 to forcible rape.
There 2 key elements that must be present to meet the definition of sexual abuse or battery. First, the sexual touching must be done intentionally. If 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 battery.
The second element is lack of consent. In order for an intentional sexual touching to qualify as abuse or assault, it must be done without mutual consent. Under Maryland law, minors under the age of 18 do not have the capacity to give consent to sexual touching. This means that any sexual contact with a minor by an adult is automatically considered sexual battery.
So if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student, that would be sexual battery even if the student willingly participated and consented. Legally, the 15-year-old did not have the capacity to consent to sexual contact with the adult teacher.
When Can Sex Abuse Victims File a Lawsuit?
Sexual abuse or assault is both a criminal and civil offense in Maryland. This means that sex abuse victims have the right to press criminal charges and/or file a civil lawsuit and seek financial compensation. Anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse or assault can file a lawsuit.
Sex abuse victims have the right to file a civil lawsuit regardless of whether the abuser was ever criminally charged or convicted. In fact, victims can file a civil lawsuit even if they never reported it to the police or told anyone that it happened.
The evidentiary burden for proving sexual battery in a civil case is much lower than the burden in a criminal case. This means that it is much easier for a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to prove that the sexual abuse or assault occurred. So even if an abuser escapes criminal justice, they can still be held accountable in a civil court.
Who Can You Sue in a Sex Abuse Civil Case?
The person who committed the abuse is always the most obvious defendant in a civil lawsuit for sexual battery. However, suing the individual abuser is often pointless because you probably will not be able to get any money out of them even if you win (unless the abuser is someone very wealthy, like Donald Trump or a professional athlete).
To get money in a sexual abuse lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to go after third parties such as a school, church, hospital, nursing home, or organization (e.g., the Boy Scouts). These third-party defendants can be held liable in a civil lawsuit if the plaintiff can show that their negligence enabled the abuse to occur or continue.
For example, if a student is sexually abused by a teacher, the school can be named as a third-party defendant. The school can be held liable for failing to investigate, negligent supervision, or negligent hiring.
Maryland’s New Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Civil Lawsuits
The statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for how long a victim can wait before filing a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse. If the lawsuit is not filed before the SOL deadline expires, the victim will lose their right to sue. In Maryland, the statute of limitations has recently been eliminated entirely for cases involving child sex abuse. The applicable SOL rule for adult sex abuse and child sex abuse cases are explained below.
- When the Victim is an Adult
If the victim was over the age of 18 when the sexual abuse or assault occurs, Maryland’s general 3-year statute of limitations for tort actions will apply. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101. Under this rule, the victim has 3-years from the date of the last sexual assault or abuse to file their civil lawsuit.
- When the Victim is a Child
If the victim was a minor (under the age of 18) when the sexual abuse or assault occurred, then there is no statute of limitations in Maryland. In 2023, the Maryland legislature passed the Child Victims Act which is now the law in the state. Under this new law, civil lawsuits based on sexual abuse or assault in which the victim was under the age of 18 are not subject to any statute of limitations. This means that a victim of child sex abuse in Maryland can file a lawsuit no matter how many years have passed since the abuse occurred.
Settlement Value of Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Maryland
There are a number of factors that tend to drive the settlement value of sex abuse civil lawsuits in Maryland. The most significant factors in evaluating a sex abuse case for settlement are listed below.
- Nature and Severity of the Abuse: The nature and physical severity of the sexual abuse always play a big role in the settlement value of case. Abuse involving significant physical violence will drive the value up. So will abuse that continues for long time periods as opposed to a single incident.
- Strength of the Evidence: When the plaintiff has solid, definitive evidence to prove that the abuse happened, it will always drive the settlement value of the case up. Cases supported by external evidence are stronger than those involving the plaintiff’s word against the defendant’s.
- Strength of Third-Party Liability: Having a strong theory of negligence liability against a third party such as a school, church or other organization will boost the settlement value of the case.
- Size and Reputation of Third-Party Defendant: The financial position and public image of the church, school or other third-party defendant can influence the settlement amount. Larger, more established third-parties may be more likely to settle for higher amounts to protect their reputation and avoid a lengthy trial.
- Your 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 Maryland sex abuse lawyers fetch the higher settlement amounts for their clients.
Sexual Abuse Verdicts and Settlements
$331,000 Verdict (New Jersey 2023): A firefighter and youth counselor employed by the City of Perth Amboy sexually abused a boy from the time he was 8 until he 12 years old through his position as a youth group mentor. The lawsuit alleged that the City was liable for failing to properly supervise their employee when they knew or should have known the employee posed a threat of foreseeable harm to the plaintiff but failed to take reasonable steps to protect the plaintiff from that harm.
$26,838 Verdict (New York 2023): The plaintiff accepted a ride in a Yellow Cab. Once in the car, the cab driver grabbed her hand and forced her to touch his exposed genitals. She escaped the vehicle and immediately reported the incident to the police. She later sued the cab company for negligently hiring the driver after he had previously be fired by a ride share company for a similar incident.
$3,300,000 Settlement (Washington 2022): At age 5, the plaintiff was place in foster care and later adopted by a family that the defendant, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) had earlier determined was a home where any child placed there was at high risk to be sexually abused. The plaintiff was sexually abused in the home from age 5 to age 15. He sued DSHS for negligently putting him in a home that was a known risk.
$10,000 Verdict (New York 2022): A 26-year-old female who worked as a publicist in the film industry alleged that she was raped by the defendant, a famous director and screenwriter. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant lured her up to his apartment after a film premier event and forced her to perform oral sex then raped her even though she repeatedly told him no. There was no third party defendant in this case, but the abuser was independently wealthy.
$500,000 Verdict (Oregon 2022): A minor brought this civil lawsuit for an alleged single incident of sexual assault by the defendant, an adult. The lawsuit alleged that the defendant touched the plaintiffs’ genitals without consent. The defendant was also convicted of third degree sexual abuse in a criminal case based on the same incident.
$2,100,000 Settlement (Washington 2022): The plaintiff was sexually abused by his bowling coach Ty Treddenbarger. Treddenbarger was permitted overnight access to minor children unchecked and unquestioned while attending certified bowling tournaments. Treddenbarger was a well-known bowling coach and had risen to prominence in the local, national, and global bowling communities. This renown resulted in Treddenbarger’s unfettered access to children in the bowling community. The lawsuit accused the U.S. Bowling association of negligently enabling the abuse to occur despite warnings.
$950,000 Settlement (Illinois 2021): In this case a female kindergarten student in East Aurora School District was sexually abused by her teacher. The lawsuit was brought against the school district and alleged that there had been previous allegations of sexual misconduct by the same teacher but the school failed to conduct a proper investigation and negligently allowed the teacher to remain on the job.
$3,410,730 Verdict (North Carolina 2021): The plaintiff in this case claimed that her father sexually abused her from age 8 to age 17. She filed a civil lawsuit against her father and her mother, claiming that he mother knew about the abuse and failed to stop it. There was no other third party defendant in this case and it is not clear whether the parents were wealthy.
$2,000,000 Settlement (Washington 2021): The plaintiff brought this lawsuit alleging that she was sexually abused by her high school band and music teacher from 1988 to 1991. She filed her lawsuit years later after Washington state amended its statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. She asserted that the school district was liable for failing to properly supervise the teacher and prevent the abuse.
$2,500,000 Settlement (Illinois 2020): The plaintiff alleged that she was sexually abuse by her elementary school teacher while she was a student. The lawsuit accused the school district of negligence for failing to conduct a proper background check on the teacher and failing to enforce policies to prevent the sexual abuse from occurring.
Contact Our Sex Abuse Lawyers
If you are thinking about filing a civil lawsuit for sex abuse, contact us at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.