Rhode Island Sex Abuse Lawsuits

This post will explain the basics of Rhode Island sexual abuse lawsuits. We examine how Rhode Island law defines sexual abuse and assault and when victims of sex abuse can file civil lawsuits and get compensation. We will also analyze the potential settlement value of sex abuse lawsuits in Rhode Island.

What is Considered Sex Abuse in Rhode Island

Sexual assault or abuse is defined as intentional sexual touching or contact 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 a breast to rape.

There are two key components that must be present to meet the definition of sexual abuse in Rhode Island. 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 abuse.

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 Rhode Island 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 16-year-old student, that would be sexual battery even if the student willingly participated and consented. The 16-year-old did not have the legal capacity to consent to sexual contact with the adult teacher.

When Can You Sue for Sexual Abuse?

In Rhode Island, sexual abuse or assault constitutes both a criminal offense and a civil wrongdoing. This grants sexual abuse victims the option to pursue criminal charges and/or initiate a civil lawsuit to seek financial compensation. Any individual who has suffered from sexual abuse or assault has the right to pursue either or both options.

Victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil lawsuit regardless of whether the perpetrator faced criminal charges or a conviction. In fact, victims can bring a civil lawsuit even if they never reported the abuse to the police and even if they never told anyone about it.

The burden of proof required to establish sexual battery in a civil case is notably lighter compared to that in a criminal trial. This means that it is much easier for a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to demonstrate the occurrence of sexual abuse or assault. So even if an offender evades criminal prosecution, they can still be held liable in a civil court of law.

Holding Third Parties Liable for Sexual Abuse in Rhode Island

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 of a sexual abuse civil lawsuit is to go 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 a teacher abused you 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.

Rhode Island Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

For claims involving sexual abuse that occurred when the victim or plaintiff was a child (i.e., under age 18), Rhode Island has a very favorable statute of limitations thanks to a law enacted in 2019. Child sexual abuse victims in Rhode Island have until their 53rd birthday (age of majority plus 35 years) to file a civil lawsuit against both the perpetrator or negligent third-parties such as churches or schools. 9 R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 9-1-51. To make things even easier for victims, Rhode Island also has a 7-year discovery rule for child sex abuse claims. This means that victims have up to 7 years after “realizing” that they were abuse victims.

The only drawback of this law is that for lawsuits against third-parties, it only applies to claims involving sexual abuse occurring AFTER the law took effect in 2019. The 2019 law included a revival provision allowing previously expired claims to be filed, but the revival law only applied to lawsuits against individual perpetrators, not third-parties.

Rhode Island Sex Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

Below are summaries of verdicts and settlements in Rhode Island sexual abuse lawsuits.

$13,500,000 Settlement: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence agreed to a $13.5 million settlement for a lawsuit brought by 36 survivors of sexual abuse. These individuals allege that they were abused as children by 11 priests over several decades. Among the survivors, 8 reported being molested by Rev. James M. Silva, who was convicted of sexual abuse in 1995.

$1,000,000 Verdict: A male minor suffered emotional distress, anxiety, and nightmares when he was sexually molested by the male defendant principal over a prolonged period of time at a nonparty school where the plaintiff was a student. The plaintiff contended that the defendant viciously sexually molested him, violated his civil rights, failed to perform his duty as a principal in a professional manner, failed to show human compassion, and that his negligence resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

$1,300,000 Settlement: The Diocese of Providence agreed to pay a group of 4 victims a total of $1.3 million to settle claims that they were sexually abused by various priests within the church when they were children.

$75,000 Verdict: An 8-year-old female was alleged to have suffered sexual molestation by nonparty fellow students at the defendant school when the female codefendant, who was her teacher, left the class unattended and continued with a reading class while the plaintiff and the nonparty students were out of view and behind a book case. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to properly train and supervise its teachers, that the codefendant failed to provide adequate supervision of the minor students entrusted to her care, and that the defendants’ negligence resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

$24,000,000 Settlement: The Diocese of Providence announced in 2019 that it was paying out another settlement to yet another group of sexual abuse survivors. This settlement involved claims by 130 victims who alleged that they were abused by clergy members. The settlement amount included $2.3 million set aside for counseling services.

$32,000 Verdict: A 12-year-old female suffered sexual molestation with physical and emotional injuries and the need for counseling when the male defendant, her uncle, sexually attacked her twice. The plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent in sexually attacking her. The low amount of this verdict is somewhat surprising given the age of the victim and the fact she was allegedly attacked twice.

$1,700,000 Verdict: A male minor suffered emotional distress when he was sexually abused by the defendant school principal.  The plaintiff contended that the molestation began when the plaintiff was in elementary school and continued for several years thereafter. The plaintiff further contended that the defendant negligently, willfully, and intentionally breached his duty to protect the minor plaintiff entrusted to his care, and that his actions resulted in the plaintiff’s permanent injury. The defendant admitted liability. The plaintiff’s award included punitive damages of $700,000.

Contact Us About Rhode Island Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in Rhode Island, contact us today at 800-553-8082 or reach out to us online.

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