Vermont has some of the best laws in the country when it comes to civil lawsuits for child sex abuse. Victims of sexual abuse in Vermont can file a civil lawsuit no matter how many decades have passed since the abuse occurred. This post will discuss how sex abuse victims can file civil lawsuits in Vermont and look at the potential settlement value of these cases.
How Does Vermont Define Sex Abuse?
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are defined by Vermont criminal law statutes. In the context of a civil lawsuit, sex abuse and assault is called “sexual battery.” Under Vermont 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 Vermont
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.
Vermont 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 bringing a lawsuit until years after the fact.
In 2020, Vermont became the first state to eliminate its statute of limitations on civil lawsuits involving childhood sexual abuse. 12 V.S.A. § 522 Child sex abuse victims in Vermont can file a civil lawsuit no matter how long ago that abuse occurred. Vermont is one of only 2 states to be given a perfect score for its child sex abuse civil lawsuit rules by the victim advocacy organization Child USA.
The law lifting the statute of limitations only applies to sex abuse lawsuits in which the victim was a child. If the abuse occurred when the victim was an adult, the general 6-year statute of limitations is still applicable.
Settlement Value of Vermont 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. Vermont 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 sexually abused. This often leads to very big verdicts with massive pain and suffering awards which factor 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 Vermont
Below are examples of Vermont sexual abuse lawsuits that resulted in verdicts and settlements in favor of plaintiffs.
$35,000,000 (Vermont 2014): A 22-year-old female, A.I., reportedly suffered emotional distress that required psychiatric hospitalizations for treatment as a result of sexual assaults by defendant S.I., an adult male, that allegedly occurred while A.I. was between the ages of three and eight. The plaintiff claimed the defendant’s conduct constituted lewd or lascivious conduct, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and battery, and outrageous conduct done intentionally or with reckless disregard of the probability of causing emotional distress. The jury found that the plaintiff proved by a preponderance of evidence that the defendant committed one or more acts of sexual abuse against her.
$3,592,500 Verdict (Vermont 2008): An 11-year-old male alleged that he suffered emotional distress when he was sexually molested by a nonparty reverend at the defendant church where the plaintiff was an alter boy. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to properly train and supervise its employees, negligently allowed sexual molestation to take place in the church, and that it was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
$7,800,000 Verdict (Vermont 2008): A male alleged that he suffered sexual molestation inflicted by a nonparty priest, affiliated with the defendant (Catholic Diocese), over a period of several years while he was a young child. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to prevent its nonparty priest from forcing the minor plaintiff to engage in sexual activities that were not initiated or encouraged by the plaintiff, and that the defendant’s negligence caused his injuries.
$170,000 Settlement (Vermont 2003): A male suffered emotional distress after he was sexually abused at the age of 13 by the male codefendant cleric, who was a member of the defendant diocese. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to provide reasonable supervision to ensure the safety of the minor children entrusted to its care, failed to prevent the sexual abuse of its minor parishioners, had prior knowledge of the cleric’s sexual contact with young male children, and failed to warn parents of the minors about the cleric’s past offenses.
Contact Us About Vermont Sex Abuse Lawsuits
If you were the victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in Vermont, contact us today at 800-553-8082.