If you were the victim of sexual abuse or assault, either as a child or an adult, you have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against both your abuser and any school, company, or organization that might be liable for the abuse.
In this post, we will provide a brief overview of sexual abuse lawsuits in Washington. We will look at the Washington statute of limitations for sex abuse civil cases and the potential settlement value of these cases. We will also discuss how a new proposed law in Washington could make it much easier for child sex abuse victims to bring lawsuits. If you have a Washington sex abuse case, contact us today for a free consultation at 800-553-8082.
Defining Sexual Abuse in Washington
The legal definition of sexual abuse or assault in Washington is similar to the definition in most other states. According to Washington law, any unwanted and deliberate sexual touching or contact can be categorized as sex abuse, with the touch being deemed “sexual” when involving a person’s intimate body parts and for the purpose of sexual gratification. WAC § 478-121-150.
In practical terms, sexual abuse encompasses almost any type or level of sexual contact from groping to forcible rape. Two crucial elements must be present to meet the criteria for sexual abuse: (1) “sexual” touching and (2) absence of consent.
The first element, physical or sexual touching, requires actual contact of a sexual nature for an act to qualify as sexual abuse or assault; verbal sexual harassment alone does not meet the definition of abuse.
The second element revolves around consent. The absence of consent is the defining factor across all forms of sexual assault. Non-consensual sexual touching automatically constitutes abuse or assault. Minors, individuals under 18 years old, lack the legal capacity to provide consent. Consequently, any sexual touching by an adult involving a minor is inherently considered sexual abuse.
Civil Lawsuits for Sex Abuse in Washington
Under Washington state law, individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or assault have the option to initiate a civil lawsuit to pursue financial compensation. Keep in mind that abuse victims can pursue a civil lawsuit irrespective of whether they have filed criminal charges, and this legal recourse remains available even if the abuse was never reported or disclosed at the time it occurred.
To initiate a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse, victims are only required to be willing to provide sworn testimony regarding the details of the sexual abuse or assault. This testimony can be reinforced by additional evidence, such as medical records demonstrating physical injuries resulting from the assault. Moreover, testimony from other witnesses who can attest to the factual aspects of the case may also be presented.
While sexual abuse lawsuits become part of the public record, Washington’s civil procedure rules permit victims involved in such cases to safeguard their anonymity in publicly filed court documents. For instance, if a person named Jessica Smith files a sexual abuse lawsuit, she can be referred to as “J.S.” or Jane Doe in the legal pleadings.
Holding Third Parties Liable for Sexual Abuse
The most direct defendant in a civil lawsuit related to sexual abuse would typically be the individual who perpetrated the abuse or assault. However, suing the abuser may be pointless if that person is deceased, incarcerated, or lacks the financial means to satisfy a verdict or settlement in the lawsuit.
The key to a successful sexual abuse lawsuit lies in targeting financially viable third parties, such as schools, churches, or corporations. These entities can be held accountable if the victim can demonstrate their negligence in preventing the sexual abuse or in safeguarding the victim. They also have insurance or financial resources to pay compensation to victims.
Here is an illustrative example of how suing a third party often works. Let’s say Jane experienced sexual abuse by her high school teacher, Bob. Although Jane did not disclose the abuse, the school had received other reports and complaints about Bob’s inappropriate conduct with students, which it failed to investigate. In this case, Jane could bring a sexual abuse lawsuit against the school, alleging negligence in its failure to investigate Bob and protect Jane and other students from potential harm.
Washington Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Civil Lawsuits
When the victim of sexual abuse is an adult, the case is subject to a general 3 year statute of limitations that begins running from the date of the last act of sexual abuse or assault. For cases involving child sexual abuse, the statute of limitations is also 3-years, but the law creates more wiggle room for when that 3-year period begins to run. For child sex abuse cases, the 3-year SOL period begins running from the later of the following 3 different points:
- 3 years from the child’s 18th birthday (i.e., when the victim turns 21)
- 3 years from the date that the victim reasonably should have discovered that they were injured by acts of sexual abuse
- 3 years from the time that the victim understood or should have understood the nature of the abuse.
New Proposed Law Will Eliminate Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse
A growing number of states across the U.S. have recently enacted new laws that have extended or completely eliminated the statute of limitations for when someone can bring a lawsuit based on childhood sexual abuse. So far, Washington has not joined this group. That could change very soon.
A new law (HB 1618) is currently being considered by the Washington State Legislature that would completely remove any statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse against a child. The new law would not only get rid of the statute of limitations for child sex abuse going forward, it would also apply retroactively. This means that victims of child sexual abuse that occurred decades ago will become eligible to file civil lawsuits as soon as the new law takes effect.
What Impacts the Settlement Value of Washington Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Washington sex abuse lawsuits against third parties are evaluated for settlement based on various factors that contribute to determining an appropriate settlement amount and the likelihood of reaching an agreement among the involved parties. Some critical factors include:
Strength of the evidence: The viability and quality of evidence supporting the victim’s claims are pivotal in gauging the potential success of the lawsuit. Solid evidence may result in a higher settlement amount, as churches and other defendants prefer to avoid significant trial verdicts.
Severity of the abuse: The extent and nature of the abuse can impact the settlement amount. Cases involving more severe abuse may lead to larger settlements due to the heightened emotional and psychological damage experienced by the victim. The duration of the abuse is also correlated with larger settlement payouts, acknowledging that even a single incident can be profoundly traumatic.
Damages: The victim’s incurred damages, including emotional distress, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages, significantly influence the settlement amount. Pain and suffering damages often constitute the largest portion of any settlement.
Extent of Third Party Liability: The degree of responsibility or negligence on the part of the church, particularly in how they failed the victim, affects the settlement amount. Awareness of abuse, negligence, or attempts to conceal wrongdoing can have a substantial impact on settlement payouts.
Reputation and Financial Resources of Third Party: The financial standing and public image of the church or third party defendant can sway the settlement amount. Established institutional defendants may be more inclined to settle for higher amounts to protect their reputation and avoid a protracted trial. Conversely, defendants lacking assets or insurance coverage pose challenges.
Washington Sex Abuse Verdicts and Settlements
$3,500,000 Settlement: The plaintiff sued the state Department of Social and Health Services for negligently placing in a foster care home despite receiving several reports of suspected child abuse. The plaintiff was sex trafficked in Washington apple orchards and sexually abuse by her foster parent from age 3 to age 16.
$1,520,000 Settlement: This case involved two male minors who suffered multiple injuries that included sexual abuse while both were in the care and custody of the defendant (Dept. of Social and Health Services) who placed them in the home where the abuse took place. The plaintiffs contended that the defendant negligently allowed the minors to be placed in an unsafe environment, that it was aware of abuse of other children placed in that home and that its lack of supervision allowed the perpetrator the opportunity and access to the plaintiffs.
$250,000 Settlement: The plaintiff was the victim of sexual abuse inflicted on him by a a teacher at the Seattle Public School District. The plaintiff contended that the school negligently hired and supervised the teacher, failed to warn of his abnormal sexual tendencies, negligently permitted him to socialize with students after school, and that the teacher intentionally and maliciously abused him for many years with the intent to harm and without provocation.
$1,875,000 Settlement: The plaintiff sued the State of Washington for negligently ignoring numerous reports that he and his siblings were being abused and neglected. The plaintiff was regularly sexually abuse by his father who later pled guilty to sexual abuse and he brought this lawsuit against the state for negligently failing to respond to the reports of abuse and remove him from the home.
Hiring a Washington Sex Abuse Lawyer
Our law firm handles sex abuse lawsits in Washington and across the nation. When you hire us, we work pair ourselves with the best Washington sex abuse lawyers and pay them out of our attorney fees if you win. This means that you will not have to pay any additional contingency fees for having two law firms working on your case. Additionally, you only owe a fee if we successfully secure a settlement compensation or jury payout for you.
Call us. Get information about where you begin and what this path will look like and see if is a path you want to take with us. You can get a free no-obligation consultation online or call us today at 800-553-8082.