Now more than ever before, victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault can access the civil justice system in New Jersey to hold abusers and the institutions that enabled them accountable This post will explain how sex abuse victims can bring civil lawsuits in New Jersey and get compensation. We will discuss the newly amended statute of limitations for sex abuse civil cases in New Jersey. Finally, we will examine the potential settlement value of these cases and look at recent settlements and verdicts in New Jersey sex abuse lawsuits.
How Does New Jersey Define Sex Abuse?
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are defined by New Jersey criminal law statutes. Under New Jersey law, sexual abuse is defined as intentional sexual contact (either directly or through clothing) of the intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually gratifying the abuser. This definition covers everything from forcible rape to indecent exposure.
The critical element 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. Children (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.
Holding Third Parties Liable for Sexual Abuse in New Jersey
Anyone who has been sexually abused or assaulted has the right to file a civil lawsuit and seek compensation. Victims can file civil lawsuits for sexual abuse even if they did not press criminal charges and even if they never told anyone about the abuse.
So who can sex abuse victims sue in a civil lawsuit? Victims of abuse can always file suit against the individual who abused or assaulted them. The problem with doing that, however, is that even if you win the lawsuit you probably won’t be able to get any money out of the abuser. In many cases, the abuser might already be dead or in jail.
The real goal in a sexual abuse civil lawsuit is going after a third party who can be held liable for the abuse. Third parties can be held liable in a civil sex abuse lawsuit if you can show that they were negligent and that this negligence allowed the abuse to happen.
For example, if you were abused by a teacher at your school, the school could potentially be liable for negligently failing to stop the abuse or investigate prior complaints against the teacher.
Common examples of third parties who can be liable in sexual abuse civil lawsuits include schools, churches, and organizations such as the Boy Scouts, etc.
New Jersey Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits
A statute of limitations is a legal deadline that sets a limit on how long prospective plaintiffs can wait before filing a civil lawsuit. If a plaintiff does not file suit before the statute of limitations expires, their claims will be barred.
The statute of limitations is often a major issue in sex abuse lawsuits because many victims do not feel comfortable to bring a lawsuit until years after the fact.
In 2019, New Jersey joined a growing number of states that amended their statute of limitations to expand the ability of childhood sex abuse victims to access the civil justice system.
Prior to 2019, sexual abuse victims had a very limited time frame of just 2 years to file a civil lawsuit. Under the new Child Victims Act (N.J.S.A. § 2A:14-2), victims of childhood sexual abuse have until their 55th birthday to bring a civil lawsuit for the abuse.
For cases in which the sexual abuse or assault occurred when the victim was an adult (over age 18), the New Jersey statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit is now 7 years from the last act of sexual abuse.
Catholic Church Sex Abuse Settlements in New Jersey
In recent years, the Catholic Church has been the target of sex abuse litigation across the country and the Catholic Church in New Jersey has not escaped this. In April 2022, the New Jersey Catholic diocese agreed to pay $87.5 million to settle a group of around 300 claims involving sexual abuse by clergy. The settlement arrangement came after the diocese was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the rising tide of sex abuse civil liabilities.
The settlement covered acts of abuse by Catholic clergy that spanned several decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s. Part of the settlement money will be used to establish a settlement trust to cover future claims from victims of sexual abuse. The individual claimants will reportedly receive around $290,000 each from the settlement.
Settlement Value of New Jersey Sex Abuse Lawsuits
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. New Jersey also allows punitive damages to be awarded in sexual abuse cases.
Sex abuse claims have a very high average settlement value because juries tend to get offended by the stories of children being sexual abused. This often leads to very big verdicts with massive pain and suffering awards which factors into the settlement price tag.
Also, many third party defendants in sex abuse cases (e.g., schools, churches, etc.) a 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.
Sexual Abuse Verdicts and Settlements in New Jersey
Below are examples of New Jersey sexual abuse lawsuits that resulted in verdicts and settlements in favor of plaintiffs.
$331,000 Verdict (Middlesex County 2023): Plaintiff alleged that the defendants (City of Perth Amboy and Perth Amboy Fire Department) allowed one of their employees to use his positions with them as their firefighter, community figure head, mentor, and/or counselor to allegedly sexually abuse the plaintiff many times, from approximately 1986 through 1990. The plaintiff allegedly was sexually abused by the employee, beginning when the plaintiff was approximately eight years old. The plaintiff contended the defendants were negligent for failing to properly supervise their employee when they knew or should have known the employee posed a threat.
$125,000 Settlement (Ocean County 2022): The plaintiff alleged that while she was a 14-year-old student at Toms River Regional School District she was subjected to repeated sexual assault and harassment by her teacher, Michael Romano. She filed suit against the school district for negligently failing to protect her from the abuse, although the school district claimed it had no knowledge of the teacher’s actions and the plaintiff admittedly never reported him.
$30,000 Settlement (Mercer County 2019): The plaintiff, a mentally disabled adult female with the cognitive ability of a 7-year old, was sexually abused by a mentally disabled adult male while both of them were residents at the defendant’s facility for mentally challenged people. The lawsuit alleged that the defendant failed to supervise the residents and prevent the abuse.
$550,000 Settlement (Union County 2017): 11-year-old girl alleged that she was sexually abused between August and November 2014 by a co-owner and instructor at a martial arts school, defendant Milburn Karate for Kids L.L.C. The plaintiff alleged that the instructor sexually assaulted her during and after martial arts classes and on school-sponsored trips, sent her explicit photos and videos, and asked her to provide graphic pictures of herself.
$300,000 Settlement (Federal Ct. 2017): Lawsuit alleged that 8-year-old boy with severe autism was placed in 2 different foster homes where he was subjected to numerous incidents of sexual molestation and exhibited signs of physical abuse, including bite marks, burns, cuts and bruises. The lawsuit was filed against the NJ Department of Children and Families for allegedly failing to properly supervise and protect the boy.
$4,500,000 Settlement (Passaic County 2010): The defendant, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), placed a 3-year-old boy in a foster home where he remained for 5 years. During that time the boy the victim of continuous sexual abuse by a nanny. The lawsuit alleged that hat a DYFS caseworker regularly visited the household and saw signs of alcohol abuse and assaultive behavior but DYFS did not follow up, and failed to investigate.
$600,000 Settlement (Morris County 2009): The defendant, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), placed a 7-year-old girl in foster care. The father at the foster home sexually abused her for the entire 2 year period that she was there. The lawsuit accused DYFS of negligence in failing to properly screen the foster parents and uncover the abuse.
$330,000 Settlement (Federal Ct. 2006): The plaintiff was student at Bayonne High School. He claimed that a guidance counselor at the school, Diane West, repeatedly sexually assaulted him between the summer of 2000 and December 2001. West was criminally charged with aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to probation for an unspecified period of time. The lawsuit alleged that the counselor had long history of sexual contact with her male students (including marrying one of them) and nothing was done about it.
Contact Us About New Jersey Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Our sex abuse attorneys handle cases all across the country, including New Jersey, through parent firms. If you were the victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in New Jersey, contact us today at 800-553-8082.