Wisconsin Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Under Wisconsin law, anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse or assault can file a civil lawsuit against not just the person who abused them, but also against churches, schools, or other third parties who negligently enabled the abuse to happen. This post will look at the basic elements of a sex abuse lawsuit in Wisconsin. We will also analyze the potential settlement value of Wisconsin sex abuse lawsuits.

News & Updates:

January 2024: A lawsuit alleges that a nurse’s sexual assault and aggravated battery at Garden Place Waterloo nursing home resulted in the death of a resident. The facility is now facing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The legal complaint details the assault, alleging that the nurse forcibly escorted the 87-year-old resident, who was unable to walk, to her restroom and assaulted her despite the resident’s attempts to resist. An employee intervened upon hearing cries for help, which caused the nurse to stop the assault and exit the premises.

The lawsuit contends that the resident’s death was a direct consequence of the injuries from the assault. The resident is survived by two daughters and a son, who claim to have endured emotional suffering and lost the comfort and support of their mother’s presence.

Definition of Sexual Abuse in Wisconsin

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are defined in Wisconsin as any deliberate or intentional sexual touching or contact without the other individual’s consent, motivated by sexual gratification, arousal, or humiliation. In the context of a civil lawsuit, sex abuse or assault is often referred to as “sexual battery.”

To meet the criteria of sexual abuse or “sexual battery”, two key elements must be present. First, the sexual touching must be intentional. Instances where one unintentionally touches a person’s breast or genitals, such as in a crowded elevator or while attempting to prevent a fall, lack the requisite intent to qualify as sexual battery.

The second crucial element is the absence of consent. For intentional sexual touching to be deemed sexual abuse, it must occur without consent. Under Wisconsin law, individuals under 18 years of age are incapable of providing consent for sexual touching. This means that any sexual interaction with a minor by an adult is automatically classified as sexual battery.

When Can Abuse Victims Sue?

The person who committed the sexual assault or abuse with always be a primary defendant in any sexual battery lawsuit. Suing the abuser is often pointless, however, because they typically will not have the financial resources to pay for any settlement or verdict in the case. Suing the abuser only makes sense in a civil case if they are rich.

The key to financial success in a Wisconsin sex abuse lawsuit is going after a third party organizational defendant with deep pockets, like a church, school, or corporation. These parties can be held liable in a civil case if the plaintiff can show that their negligence somehow enabled the abuse to occur or to continue. Third parties in sex abuse lawsuits can also be held liable if they attempt to cover up abuse incidents afterward.

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.

Suing Third Parties in Wisconsin Sex Abuse Lawsuits

The most direct defendant in any sexual abuse lawsuit is the person who committed the abuse. The problem with suing the abuser is that they might already be dead or in jail, and even if they are still around, they may not have money or financial resources to pay for any compensation awarded in the case. Going after the abuser only makes sense in a civil case if they are wealthy.

The best way to get money in a civil sex abuse lawsuit is to sue a third party for negligence in connection with the abuse. Common examples of third parties who can be sued in sex abuse lawsuits include schools, youth organizations, churches, gyms, etc. These parties can be held liable in a child sex abuse lawsuit if the plaintiff can show that their negligence somehow enabled the abuse to occur or to continue. Third parties in sex abuse lawsuits can also be held liable if they attempt to cover up abuse incidents after the fact.

The following example will help illustrate how third parties can be liable in sexual assault cases. Let’s assume that Betty was a student at a private school in Milwaukee. In 7th grade, Betty’s teacher, Mr. Jones, sexually abused Betty. The school had previously received complaints and other warnings suggesting that Mr. Jones may be a sexual predator, including prior allegations of abuse by former female students and incidents of highly inappropriate behavior. Betty (or her parents) can file a civil lawsuit against the private school for negligently failing to investigate Mr. Jones and prevent him from abusing students.

Wisconsin Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Many states around the country have recently extended or, in some cases, completely eliminated their statute of limitations for sex abuse civil lawsuits. That has not happened in Wisconsin, which has some of the strictest statute of limitation laws for sexual abuse civil cases.

If the victim is an adult (over the age of 18) when the sexual abuse occurs, they only have 2 years to file a sex abuse lawsuit under Wisconsin’s general personal injury SOL. Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 893.16. If the victim was a child/minor (under age 18) when the sexual abuse occurred, the 2-year SOL still applies but it gets tolled until the victim reaches the age of majority (18) — so child victims of sexual abuse have until their 20th birthday to file civil lawsuits.

Wisconsin has create some limited exceptions or “carve outs” that extend the SOL. In 2004, Wisconsin enacted a law that extended the SOL for child sex abuse cases (i.e., cases where the victim was under 18) from age 20 to age 35. However, this extended SOL only applies if the victim is bringing a civil lawsuit against the individual who committed the abuse – claims against most third parties, like schools, are not covered. Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 893.587. Cases involving child sexual abuse by a member of the clergy are included in this extended SOL – and that includes not just claims against the individual priest, but also claims against the church. So victims of child sexual abuse committed by a member of a church have until their 35th birthday to file a lawsuit. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 895.442.

Efforts have been made to extend the reach of the 35th birthday SOL for sex abuse beyond churches, but the courts in Wisconsin have blocked those efforts through strict interpretation of the statute. Fleming v. Amateur Athletic Union of United States, Inc., 990 N.W.2d 244 (Wis. 2023) (holding that § 893.587’s age 35 SOL is not applicable to negligence-based CSA claims against non-religious organizations).

Wisconsin Sexual Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

$893,515 Verdict: A female minor suffered posttraumatic stress disorder after she was sexually molested over a period of 10 months by the male defendant. The plaintiff contended that the defendant willfully, maliciously, and intentionally forced her to engage in sexual acts and that the abuse resulted in severe and lasting emotional distress. There was no third-party defendant in this case so its not clear whether the plaintiff actually recovered on this verdict.

$45,000 Settlement: A 6-year-old female was placed in foster care and supervised by the defendant, a private welfare agency contracted by the state. The plaintiff contended that she was sexually assaulted during her residence in the foster home assigned to her by the defendant, that the defendant failed to properly assure her safety and failed to monitor and properly supervise the foster guardian. Two siblings of the plaintiff also suffered injuries in similar incidents and each received a settlement award.

$70,000 Settlement: The plaintiff, a male under the age of 18, alleged that he was sexually abused by his teacher at a private school (Early Academy of Excellence) operated by a church. The lawsuit alleged that the school and the church were negligent, and failed to adequately investigate the background of applicants and failed to exercise ordinary care in the hiring of teachers and staff to ensure the safety of the students.

$17,000,000 Settlement: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee agreed to settle sexual abuse claims brought by 10 individuals. The victims were sexually abuse by catholic priests in California, but they alleged that the abuse occurred by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee relocated the 2 priests to California in response to allegations that they were sexually molesting children.

$24,038 Settlement: A 9-year-old boy was placed in a foster care home by the defendant (a social welfare agency), and he was sexually molested at the foster home. The plaintiff contended that the defendant negligently placed him in a foster home with another foster child who had known aggressive and violent tendencies.

$1,117,000 Verdict: A 16-year-old female German exchange student was placed in a “host” home by the defendant (an exchange student program) where the father of the household forced her into a sexual relationship with him and threatened her if she did not keep it a secret. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to adequately supervise the exchange program and failed to comply with its own policies.

$21,000,000 Settlement: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee paid $21 million to settle claims made by a group of 330 victims who alleged that they were sexually molested by catholic priests when they were children. This settlement averaged out to only around $63,000 per claimant.

$50,000 Settlement: A 15-year-old female student was sexually abused by her teacher at a public school in the city of Milwaukee. She sued the school board contending that it negligently placed her and others in a position of danger when failing to investigate the teacher before hiring him.

$700,000 Settlement: 2 brothers were sexually abused by a priest under the Diocese of Green Bay. The abuse occurred when they were 12 and 14 years old at St. Nicholas in Freedom, WI. The priest who committed the abuse was criminally convicted and sentenced to prison.

Contact Us About Wisconsin Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of sexual abuse and want to file a sex abuse lawsuit in Wisconsin,  contact us today at 800-553-8082.

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