Vermont Sex Abuse Lawsuits

In 2024, 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?

Vermont criminal law statutes define sexual abuse and sexual assault. 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 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.

Priest Sex Abuse Lawsuits in Vermont

When Vermont’s Catholic Church acknowledged its extensive history of child sex abuse claims against 10% of its clergy, questions arose about the financial capacity of the state’s largest religious denomination to handle a potential new wave of lawsuits.

The Diocese of Burlington reported $16 million in unrestricted net assets in its latest financial statement. But here is thing: this figure does not account for approximately $500 million in property moved into trusts over a decade ago to safeguard these assets from priest abuse settlements. So there is plenty of money around for clergy sex abuse settlements.

Vermont Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

A statute of limitations is a legal deadline that limits 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.

History of Vermont Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitation

There is no statute of limitations on sexual assault lawsuits in Vermont for children abused as minors.  There used to be a deadline to file a sex abuse lawsuit.  In 1990, the Vermont Legislature passed 12 V.S.A. § 522, establishing Vermont’s inaugural statute of limitations explicitly addressing claims for childhood sexual abuse.

This statute mandated that legal actions related to childhood sexual abuse must be initiated within six years of the act itself or within six years from when the victim recognized the injury caused by the abuse.  Before this law, sexual abuse lawsuits were governed by the general three-year statute of limitations for personal injuries (12 V.S.A. § 512). This law included a provision for retroactivity, applying the six-year limitations period to all actions initiated after its enactment date, provided that the act of sexual abuse or the realization that the injury was caused by such abuse happened on or after July 1, 1984.

New Law

Then, in  2019, Vermont made history and became the first state to eliminate its statute of limitations on civil lawsuits involving childhood sexual abuse by enacting. 12 V.S.A. § 522. Child sex abuse victims in Vermont can now file a civil lawsuit no matter how long ago that abuse occurred.

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.

Whenever a law is changed retroactively, legal challenges are brought to defeat it. Vermont law has always been clear that there is a general rule against interpreting statutes as applying to past events. But the Vermont Supreme Court has clearly affirmed the legislature’s intent in passing this law.

One Caveat – Gross Negligence Standard

Despite what is stated in 1 V.S.A. § 214, this section will be applied retroactively to cases of childhood sexual abuse that happened before July 1, 2019, regardless of any statute of limitations that was in place when the abuse occurred.

So in cases where childhood sexual abuse claims would have been prevented by any statute of limitations as of June 30, 2019, compensation can only be awarded against an organization that employed, supervised, or was responsible for the individual accused of the abuse if it is proven that the organization was grossly negligent.

No one talks about this provision which can be a challenge for trial lawyers. But the thinking is juries will be outraged enough to find gross negligence in most sex abuse lawsuits.

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 significant 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.) are 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 resolve the case 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.

  • $4,500,000 (Vermont 2023): Several plaintiffs, identified only by their initials, allegedly suffered abuse as children at the now-closed Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex and another facility in Middlesex. This abuse purportedly resulted in severe emotional and psychological distress for the victims. The plaintiffs, consisting of four females and three males, reached a sex abuse settlement with the state of Vermont following a mediation session in December. The settlement was finalized this week, with the state agreeing to pay $4.5 million but not admitting wrongdoing. Tragically, one of the female plaintiffs had passed away from a drug overdose shortly before the lawsuit was filed. Our law firm has really drilled down on juvenile detention center cases recently.  Our sex abuse lawyers did not fully understand the scope of the problem until we started just seeing case after case.
  • $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 for 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 altar boy. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to train and supervise its employees properly, 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 several years while he was a young child. The plaintiff filed a priest sex abuse lawsuit, contending that the defendant failed to prevent its nonparty priest from forcing the minor plaintiff to engage in sexual activities.  There is no question that priest sex abuse lawsuits in Vermont have high settlement amounts.  But the diocese let this lawsuit go to trial and paid the price.
  • $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 or reach out to us online.


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