If you have been the victim of sex abuse or a sexual assault you have the right to file a civil lawsuit against your abuser (or the organization that enabled the abuse) and get justice with financial compensation. Almost any type of criminal sexual conduct or unwanted sexual contact can form the basis for a sexual abuse or sexual assault lawsuit. The type of conduct commonly seen in sex abuse lawsuits includes:
- Sexual abuse of child
- Sexual batter (groping or unwanted sexual touching)
- Indecent exposure
- Sexual assault or groping by healthcare professional
Sexual assault victims can file a civil lawsuit regardless of whether the defendant has been convicted of a crime (or even charged with a crime).
Victims of sexual abuse and assault who file a successful lawsuit can get significant financial compensation. Compensation is allowed for things such as: medical bills (including mental health counseling), lost wages or income, and pain & suffering (including mental anguish resulting from the abuse).
Who Can File a Sexual Abuse or Assault Lawsuit?
Anyone who has been the victim of a sexual assault or abuse can file a civil lawsuit for sexual battery as long as the assault or abuse involved some type of unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature. The individual victim of the assault or abuse is the plaintiff. In some cases, the spouse of the victim can also be a plaintiff and bring a separate claim for loss of companionship (loss of consortium).
Can You Sue Someone Other than the Abuser in a Sexual Assault Lawsuit?
The most obvious defendant in any sex abuse lawsuit is always the individual who committed the abuse or assault. In many circumstances, however, suing the abuser might be pointless because they may not have enough money to pay for any damages awarded in the lawsuit. For cases involving childhood sexual abuse, the abuser may no longer be alive.
Fortunately, the abuser is not the only potential defendant in a sex abuse lawsuit. If the sexual abuse or assault happens at a school, church, hospital, or other facility or institution, that institution or school can potentially be liable for civil damages. This is particularly true if the abuser was an employee of the school, church, hospital, or facility.
EXAMPLE: While Jane was a student at Acme Private School she was sexually abused by her school guidance counselor John. Jane can bring a sexual abuse lawsuit against both John and Acme Private School.
Almost any third party (other than the abuser) can be held liable in a sexual assault lawsuit if the third party’s negligence allowed the sexual assault or abuse to occur. One of the most common examples of this is negligent security cases in which a property owner is sued for failing to provide adequate security (e.g., cameras, lighting, etc.).
Do You Need to Pursue Criminal Charges Before Suing for Sexual Abuse?
Victims of sexual abuse or assault are not required to pursue criminal prosecution before bringing a civil lawsuit against the abuser. Victims can file a civil suit for sexual assault even if they never reported the assault or abuse to the police. There can be many reasons why a victim may choose not to report a sexual assault or not to cooperate with criminal charges against the abuser.
If the sexual assault is reported to the police and criminal charges are brought, the outcome of the criminal action against the abuser will also have no impact on the victim’s right to bring a civil lawsuit. Even if the abuser goes to trial on the sexual assault charges and gets acquitted, they can still be successfully sued in a civil case. Proving sexual assault or abuse in a civil lawsuit is much easier than proving it in a criminal case.
Is Sexual Abuse or Assault Easier to Prove in a Civil Lawsuit Compared to Criminal?
The burden of proof for a plaintiff in a sexual abuse/assault lawsuit is significantly lower than the burden of proof the prosecution faces in a criminal case for the same sexual misconduct. The well-known standard in criminal cases requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a very high standard of proof that can be very difficult to reach in sexual assault cases because there is often a “he said / she said” dispute about consent.
If a sexual assault victim files a civil lawsuit, however, the reasonable doubt standard does not apply. The burden of proof for civil cases is “preponderance of the evidence.” This basically requires the plaintiff to show that it was “more likely than not” that the alleged abuse occurred. Juries in sex abuse cases have a much easier time finding in favor of plaintiffs under this reduced standard of proof, even when there is a dispute about consent.
Statute of Limitations in a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
New laws are helping to ensure that victims of sex crimes can seek justice and compensation even if they wait to do so until years after the assault took place. Now, the state has to keep evidence for twenty years after an incident, instead of throwing it away after a few months. Additionally, sexual assault forensic exams, commonly known as “rape kits” must be sent to laboratories within thirty days.
There is no criminal rape or sexual assault statute of limitations in Maryland. This means that there is no time limit within which a survivor must press charges. There is, however, a statute of limitations for civil cases. A survivor must file a lawsuit within three years of when the assault took place.
If the victim was a minor when they were sexually assaulted, there is an exception to the statute of limitations. These victims can file a lawsuit against the perpetrator any time before their 21st birthday.
Deadlines to sue are very real and they come with few exceptions.
- Failed effort in 2021 to extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims
- Another failed effort in 2021