Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Lawsuits and Settlements

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 look at the process of filing sex abuse lawsuits in Pennsylvania and review the applicable laws related to sex abuse civil suits. We will also discuss the average settlement compensation and jury payouts of Pennsylvania sex abuse cases and look at recent verdicts and settlements.

The Definition of Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, sexual assault or battery is defined as any non-consensual touching of a person’s intimate parts intentionally done for sexual gratification or arousal. Under this broad definition, anything from groping breasts at an office happy hour to forcible rape falls under the definition of sexual assault or abuse.

Two critical elements must be present for an action to qualify as sexual battery in Pennsylvania: (1) sexual intent and (2) lack of consent. The first element is sexual intent. The plaintiff must show that the defendant engaged in unwanted touching for sexual gratification. Accidentally touching someone’s private parts does not count.

The second element is lack of consent. For intentional touching to qualify as sexual battery, it must be done without consent. Legally, children under the age of 18 cannot give consent to sexual touching. This means that any intentional sexual contact with a minor by an adult lacks consent and qualifies as sexual battery.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Sex Abuse in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law permits victims of sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits and seek monetary compensation. The right to bring a civil lawsuit is not contingent on whether the victim pressed criminal charges. Abuse victims can file a civil suit regardless of whether they reported the abuse to the police when it happened. It also doesn’t matter whether the abuser was convicted.

Victims can bring civil lawsuits for sexual abuse as long as they are presently willing to testify under oath about the facts of the alleged sexual abuse or assault. Other forms of evidence, such as medical records or fact testimony from other witnesses, can also support the victim’s testimony.

If you file a sexual abuse lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the case will be public record. However, you  may be able to keep your name and identity confidential. Pennsylvania’s court rules allow victims to keep their names confidential and use “Jane Doe” or initials in court filings.

Holding Third Parties Liable for Sex Abuse

The primary defendant in any sexual battery lawsuit would be the person who committed the sexual assault. The problem with suing the abuser is that they might already be dead or in jail, and even if they are still around, they may not have money or financial resources to pay for any compensation awarded in the case. Going after the abuser only makes sense in a civil case if they are wealthy.

To get actual compensation in a sex abuse lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to go after a third party with deep pockets, like a church, school, or corporation. These parties can be held liable in a civil case if the plaintiff can show that their negligence somehow enabled the abuse to occur or to continue. Third parties in sex abuse lawsuits can also be held liable if they attempted to cover up abuse incidents afterward.

Let’s consider a typical example of how third parties can be liable for sex abuse in Pennsylvania. Let’s say that a guard at a juvenile detention facility is sexually abusing boys who are inmates. Several victims file complaints, but the facility ignores them and allows the guard to continue his abuse. The victim can file a civil lawsuit against the detention facility (or the County that operates it) for negligently failing to investigate and protect them from abuse.

Similar theories of liability are frequently used to hold churches, schools, and organizations like the Boy Scouts liable in civil sexual assault cases.

Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Victims considering filing a sex abuse civil lawsuit in Pennsylvania must know the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations imposes a legal deadline on how long a plaintiff can wait before filing a lawsuit. The plaintiff loses their right to sue if the case is not filed before the SOL expires.

Pennsylvania is very close to passing a new law or amendment to the state constitution (House Bill 14) that will eliminate the statute of limitations for all civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse of a minor. The new law was passed by the lower branch of the Pennsylvania legislature and is now under consideration by the State Senate.

SOL for Post-2019 Sex Abuse

In 2019, Pennsylvania did pass an amendment to its sex abuse statute of limitations. Under this new law, victims of childhood sexual abuse have until their 55th birthday to file a civil lawsuit for sexual battery. For victims between 18-24 when the abuse occurred, the new law gives them until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit. These new laws only apply to cases where sexual abuse occurred AFTER January 1, 2019. Abuse occurring before 2019 is subject to the old statute of limitations.

SOL for Pre-2019 Sex Abuse

Cases involving sexual abuse or assault before January 1, 2019, are subject to Pennsylvania’s general 2-year statute of limitations. If the abuse occurred when the victim was an adult (over age 18), the victim has 2-years from the last assault to file a civil lawsuit.

For cases where the victim was a child when the abuse occurred, the 2-year statute of limitations gets tolled until the victim turns 18. So victims of child sex abuse occurring before 2019 would have until their 20th birthday to file a civil lawsuit.

Settlement Value of Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Pennsylvania

The settlement value of Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuits against third parties such as schools, churches, or corporations is based on several factors. Below is a list of the primary factors that tend to drive the value of these sex abuse cases up or down.

  • Evidentiary Strength: The strength and quality of the evidence showing that the sexual abuse happened is one of the most critical factors impacting the value of abuse cases. When there is solid, reliable evidence to substantiate the abuse allegations made by the plaintiff, the case has a much higher value.
  • Abuse Severity: The severity and nature of the sexual abuse can also drive the case’s value upward. The frequency and duration of the abuse also come into play here. A case involving a single incident of abuse will be worth less than one involving regular abuse lasting years.
  • Strength of 3rd Party Liability Theory: The level of responsibility or negligence by the church or responsibility of just how much they failed the victim will affect the settlement amount of a Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuit. If the church or corporation was either aware of the abuse or clearly turned a blind eye to all of the clues, that really impacts settlement amounts because of how it strengthens the case and the adverse publicity from a jury verdict with those facts. So if they tried to cover up the abuse, a jury will destroy them, impacting settlement payouts.
  • Reputation and Resources of 3rd Party: The church’s financial position and public image can influence the settlement amount. Big corporations or organizations may be willing to pay more money to settle cases and protect their public image.
  • 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 Pennsylvania sex abuse lawyers fetch the higher settlement amounts for their clients.

Cetainly the ability of a third party to pay is often critical to getting fair settlement compensation.  This is not always easy in Pennsylvania in clergy abuse lawsuits where you would think ability to pay would not be an issue.

For example, the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg and created a compensationd fund.  On February 15, 2023, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted final approval to the Plan of Reorganization for the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. This Plan elucidates the procedures by which the Diocese and its related entities will establish a Survivor Compensation Trust, contribute $7.5 million for financial restitution to survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and implement enhanced child safety measures. In addition, the Diocese’s current and previous insurance providers will inject a further $10.75 million into the Trust. Before initiating the reorganization, the Diocese authorized an independent Survivor Compensation Program, distributing $12,784,450 to aid 111 survivors. So that is a per person average of $115,000.  That is not a lot of compensation for a clergy abuse lawsuit.

Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

One tool to help you understand how much your Pennsylvania sex abuse lawsuit might be worth is comparing your case to previous settlements and verdicts in similar cases involving sexual abuse. While the settlements and verdicts summarized below can provide valuable insights into potential compensation, you must understand that every case is unique and complex, and it’s impossible to accurately summarize a case in a single paragraph. You cannot assume that a similar case will have the same outcome.

Prior settlements and verdicts cannot offer an accurate prediction of what your case will be worth. They can help provide a general understanding of the range of potential compensation. Still, they should be considered in conjunction with other case evaluation tools to accurately determine your claim’s value.

$3,700,000 Settlement (Bucks County 2022): This case involved 21 minor plaintiffs who suffered multiple injuries, including sexual abuse inflicted by priests and a teacher at the defendant diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The plaintiffs contended that the diocese had prior knowledge regarding the sexual abuse of the plaintiffs but failed to take action to prevent further abuse and breached their duty to ensure the safety of minors entrusted to their care.

$70,000 Settlement (York County 2021): A 75-year-old resident female with Alzheimer’s disease was allegedly sexually assaulted by a laundry worker at the nursing home where she was a resident. That lawsuit alleged that the nursing failed to monitor and investigate reports of similar conduct.

$150,000 Settlement  (Bucks County 2018): a 7-year-old male was placed in temporary custody at Christ’s Home for Children, where he allegedly suffered repeated sexual assaults and abuse by other older residents. The lawsuit alleged that the facility failed to supervise the residents and prevent the abuse.

$1,530,000 Verdict (E.D. Pa. 2018): 13-year-old boy was a resident in a treatment facility operated by the defendant. During his residency, the boy was allegedly the victim of a single incident of sexual abuse by an older boy at the facility. The lawsuit alleged the defendant was negligent for failing to utilize safeguards, policies, and procedures.

$200,000 Settlement (E.D. Pa. 2017): A female high-school student in the Pennridge School District reportedly suffered severe and ongoing psychological damage from abuse by the district’s basketball team coach. The abuse included 15 sexual encounters that lacked consent because the girl was under 18.

Contact Us About New Jersey Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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

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