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 it. 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 and, specifically, clergy abuse lawsuits and the average settlement value of these cases.
November 2023 Maryland Sex Abuse Lawsuits Updates
- The Catholic community in Baltimore is facing the closure of a church following the ousting of its head pastor, Father Paschal Morlino, due to a sex assault claim. The Archdiocese of Baltimore declared that the church, served by Father Morlino for almost four decades, would cease most of its operations from November 15. This follows a 2018 accusation that Morlino sexually harassed an adult congregant who has since passed away in 2020. Although Morlino settled the complaint with an undisclosed payment, his departure has left the parish without a leader, prompting the joint decision for closure by the Archdiocese and the church’s managing body, Saint Vincent Archabbey. The Archdiocese’s statement expressed regret and offered assistance to parishioners for transitioning to nearby churches for continued Catholic services. Despite this, the church’s community programs will persist under the stewardship of the Benedictines. This shutdown in the latest punch in the midst of an influx of child sex abuse lawsuits due to a change in Maryland’s new law allowing for unlimited filing times for such cases. The Archdiocese, as we discuss below, is seeking bankruptcy protection in September, with the new sexual assault state of limitations law in Maryland cited as a major reason.
October 2023 Maryland Sex Abuse Lawsuits Update
The new Maryland law lifting the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse took effect on October 1st. The Archdiocese of Baltimore was expected to be a significant target in the anticipated wave of lawsuits that would get filed this week. In a preemptive strike, however, the diocese filed bankruptcy last week. The bankruptcy blocks all civil lawsuits and eventually forces abuse victims to seek compensation under a bankruptcy trust fund.
September 2023 Maryland Sex Abuse Update
10/5/23: As foreshadowed in the last update, the Archdiocese of Baltimore did declare bankruptcy this month.
9/29/23: Next week, the new Maryland law lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims will take effect, and hundreds of lawsuits are expected to be filed. The Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB) will be the primary target of these lawsuits. It is becoming increasingly likely that the AOB will file bankruptcy to help limit its potential liability in these cases.
The AOB has a checked history of hiding assets to protect it from potential liability. A recent article in the Baltimore Sun details how the AOB has previously transferred assets and deeded properties away to protect them from possible creditors. Other churches and organizations (such as the Boy Scouts) have also used bankruptcy to help protect them from a wave of child sex abuse liability. If the AOB files for bankruptcy, it doesn’t mean victims will get nothing. However, victims will likely get less compensation than they would otherwise, and their search for justice will be delayed.
9/27/23: This week, the Maryland Attorney General’s office released a new version of the investigation report detailing decades of child sexual abuse and coverups within the Baltimore Catholic Church. This new version of the report had fewer redacted names of the accused abusers. However, the names of 5 critical officials within the Archdiocese remain redacted because they are appealing the decision to allow their names to be released. There is no question this fuels more clergy abuse lawsuits in Maryland.
9/6/23: Earlier this week, the Archdiocese of Baltimore admitted that it is considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy as one option for dealing with the mounting tide of child sex abuse liabilities. On October 1st of this year, the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 goes into effect, eliminating the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits for clergy sexual abuse. The Baltimore Archdiocese is expecting to face hundreds, possibly thousands of civil claims by sex abuse victims under the new law.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a tool other churches have utilized in clergy abuse lawsuits around the country, and it is likely coming to Baltimore. It does not mean that victims will not get compensation. The bankruptcy court would establish and supervise a victim’s trust fund. Victims would submit claims and be awarded compensation from the fund.
August 2023 Maryland Sex Abuse Update
A court order in Baltimore has approved the unveiling of the majority of the concealed identities in a report detailing the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s history of child abuse as the pressure for more transparency heats up.
According to the recently disclosed court records, 43 out of 46 obscured names are set to be made public. Before the attorney general’s office releases an unredacted version of the report, those named will have the chance to challenge the decision. Challenge based on what? Who knows? But previous proceedings occurred privately.
The Baltimore Sun had previously identified some individuals, which caused a stir and led to resignations and reassignments. The newspaper also highlighted ten alleged abusers in its articles. One key individual, former Rev. Joseph F. O’Brien, remains anonymous in the report because he wasn’t informed about his presence in the report, which is utter nonsense.
The 463-page report by the attorney general outlines how, over the 20th century, 156 church staff members abused at least 600 minors and young adults. Just awful. And it understates the scope of the abuse.
But the report is even worse because it is not just the bad guys who are at fault. The report also underscores the allegation that Baltimore sex abuse lawyers have been making for years: the Catholic Church made extensive efforts to conceal these heinous crimes.
Some abuse survivors have commented on the redactions in the report, equating them to the Church’s previous attempts at concealment. They are not equal, but it is easy to see their point. Yes, the Archdiocese of Baltimore had agreed to make the report public following the completion of the attorney general’s four-year inquiry. But it also supported some employees and clergy members who contested their inclusion in the report. This report primarily draws from the church’s records, procured through a grand jury subpoena.
What is Sexual Abuse or Assault?
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are defined as intentional touching or contact without the other person’s consent and for 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.
These two key elements must be present to meet the definition of sexual abuse or battery. 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 battery.
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 Maryland 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 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 can 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 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 teacher sexually abuses a student, the school can be named 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. The victim will lose their right to sue if the lawsuit is not filed before the SOL deadline expires. The statute of limitations in Maryland 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 18) when the sexual abuse or assault occurred, there is no statute of limitations in Maryland. In 2023, the Maryland legislature passed the Child Victims Act, now the state’s law. Under this new law, civil lawsuits based on sexual abuse or assault in which the victim was under 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
Several factors 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 significant role in the case’s settlement value. Abuse involving significant physical violence will drive the value up. So will abuse that continues for long 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 case’s settlement value up. Cases supported by external evidence are stronger than those involving the plaintiff’s word against the defendant’s.
- Strength of Third-Party Liability: A strong theory of negligence liability against a third party, such as a school, church, or other organization, will boost the case’s settlement value.
- 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 Assault Settlement Amounts and Jury Payouts
Below are sex abuse settlements and verdicts. Why not a long list of Maryland cases? Defendants are afraid to take these cases to trial. Few of these are settled without ironclad confidentiality. So you do not see many sexual assault settlement amounts, just jury payouts.
Confidentiality agreements in sexual abuse settlements, particularly involving churches, serve multiple purposes. They can protect an institution’s reputation, deter victims from speaking out due to legal penalties, and shield unrelated individuals from unwarranted association with the abuse. While they may offer victims a sense of privacy, there’s criticism over their use, with concerns that they prioritize institutions over victims. A rising movement in places like California, which has passed new laws, seeks transparency and accountability, challenging the protective veil these agreements provide to organizations.
These sexual assault lawsuit settlement agreements are awful. Do our lawyers sign them? Absolutely. Our clients often want their settlement amount and their privacy and are more than willing to give confidentiality. Our loyalty is to them.
- $100,000,000 Settlement (West Virginia 2023): Former students at a private boarding school in West Virginia detailed harrowing allegations of sexual abuse as part of a larger series of mistreatment claims. Alongside other complaints about confinement in dark, small “quarantine rooms” in Salem, Harrison County, the students’ accounts shed light on invasive violations of privacy and sexual misconduct. These testimonies raised concerns about the school’s environment and the safety of its students. Despite being aware of these abuses, the staff members failed to intervene or report the misconduct as mandated by West Virginia law and rules of human decency. Following the exposure of these allegations, a significant settlement nearing $100 million was negotiated.
- $1,000,000 Settlement (Missouri 2023): While under insufficient staff supervision at a day care, a 13-year-old autistic boy was molestation by a fellow student. The offender confessed that he was the instigator of the abuse and had instructed the boy in sexual behaviors. A day care lawsuit led to a $1 million settlement between the day care and the victim’s family.
- $331,000 Verdict (New Jersey 2023): A firefighter and youth counselor employed by the City of Perth Amboy sexually abused a boy from when he was eight until he was 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. However, they 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 a ride-share company had previously fired him for a similar incident.
- $3,300,000 Settlement (Washington 2022): At age 5, the plaintiff was placed 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 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 an adult defendant. The lawsuit alleged that the defendant touched the plaintiffs’ genitals without consent. The defendant was also convicted of third-degree sexual abuse based on the same incident in a criminal case.
- $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 there had been previous allegations of sexual misconduct by the same teacher. Still, 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 claimed that her father sexually abused her from age 8 to 17. She filed a civil lawsuit against her father and mother, claiming that her 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 after Washington state amended its statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. She asserted that the school district was liable for failing to supervise the teacher and prevent abuse properly.
- $2,500,000 Settlement (Illinois 2020): The plaintiff alleged that her elementary school teacher sexually abused her as 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 sexual abuse from occurring.
Contact Our Sex Abuse Lawyers
If you are considering filing a civil lawsuit for sex abuse in Maryland, contact us at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.