There has been a focus on the rights of victims of sexual abuse. New investigations have revealed a pattern of abuse at many organizations that stretches back for decades. At the same time, there is a heightened societal sensitivity towards the experiences of victims and their rights. Society as a whole has realized the need for these victims to get the justice that they deserve.
In some cases, it has resulted in criminal prosecutions against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, even decades later. In other cases, the need to make things right has resulted in lawsuits against the person and organization responsible for the abuse and financial compensation.
If you are the victim of sexual abuse or assault, you may have a legal cause of action against the sexual predators who harmed you. In many cases, that is not enough. While you may receive a judgment against the abuser, they may not have the money to satisfy. Moreover, in many instances, the abuse happened long enough ago that the abuser is no longer alive.
Thus, you need to find someone else who is responsible for the abuse who has the assets to pay the judgment that you have won or the settlement that you have entered.
The sexual abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC are committed to holding perpetrators fully accountable. Our legal team has experience prosecuting sexual abuse claims involving large institutions and businesses. We offer free consultations that are confidential.
Possible Defendants in Sexual Abuse Cases
Besides filing a legal action against the individual perpetrator of the sexual abuse or assault, there have been a number of different types of organizations that have been sued for abuse that occurred under their auspices or watch.
While there are many organizations on this list that work with youth and students, know that even sex acts or abuse of adults can result in financial compensation, and businesses can also be made to pay.
Some of the possible defendants in a civil case include:
- Religious organizations such as the Catholic Church for abuse committed by clergy, priests, and other church officials
- Groups that work with youth, including the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
- School districts (grammar and high schools) that employ teachers or coaches who have abused children
- Universities and schools where team doctors have committed acts of abuse
- Businesses whose employees have assaulted customers, such as Uber and Lyft
- Airlines and other carriers can be liable when one passenger sexually assaults another
Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Abuse Civil Claims
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about civil court suits involving sexual abuse victims:
Q. Who Am I Able to Sue to Obtain Financial Compensation?
1. You are able to file a civil claim against the organization that employed the abuser or in whose name the abuser acted.
The abuser is considered to be an agent of the employer. In other words, their actions are considered to be done on behalf of the organization that provides them with the authority for their actions. Even if what they did is outside of the scope of their employment, it is still considered an act by the employer.
In a sense, making the organization pay for the abuse committed by the representative is basically the same about making a company pay for an accident caused by their truck driver. The instant that they put on the uniform or act in their employment, it is as if they are one and the same as their employer.
Q. Why Are These Organizations Being Held Responsible?
1. In most cases, organizations have engaged in wrongdoing on their part or simply hired the person who committed the abuse.
While it was an individual as opposed to an organization that committed the abuse, the organization is also to blame. There are several different theories of liabilities that victims can use in sexual abuse claims.
- A company such as Uber and Lyft can be held responsible for negligent hiring. The companies represent that they perform extensive and multiple background checks on drivers, but there are reports that they either economize sometimes or even fail to perform the proper verifications.
- An organization may have an indication that there is abuse occurring, yet will either fail to take action or even worse, may work to cover-up the abuse. This is what happened in the case of both the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church. The Boy Scouts had decades worth of evidence and records that abuse was occurring. Many dioceses of the Catholic Church simply moved priests to another parish after there was evidence that they had committed sexual crimes as opposed to turning them into the police.
- Even if the company or organization did not know about the abuse as it occurred, they may still be held legally responsible because they employed the perpetrator of the abuse.
Q. Can I Still Sue if My Abuse Happened Decades Ago?
1. Yes. States have been changing laws to expand the time limit in which you can file a claim.
In the past, you may have run into issues with the statute of limitations in your states which may have prevented a legal claim with facts that could have occurred decades ago. However, the increasing focus on victim’s rights now recognizes that people have the right to justice even if it happened many years ago.
There are many reasons why someone would not be able to file a sexual abuse claim within the applicable statute of limitations. Sometimes, memories of abuse are repressed and do not emerge until much later in life. In other instances, a victim does not step forward because they are either afraid or do not think that they will be believed. As a result, there were millions of abuse victims who had previously believed that they had lost their legal right to file a case.
Recently, states have begun changing their laws to make it easier for victims of sexual misconduct to file a claim. Specifically, they have either been changing or eliminating statutes of limitations. Here are some examples of the laws in various states:
- Illinois laws state that victims of sex abuse must be filed within 20 years of the date the person abused discovers or through the use of reasonable diligence should discover both (i) that the act of childhood sexual abuse occurred and (ii) that the injury was caused by the childhood sexual abuse.
- In 2019, California changed its law to give victims of childhood sexual abuse until age 40, or five years from the discovery of the abuse, to file civil lawsuits.
- Pennsylvania expanded the statute of limitations in civil claims to the age of 55.
- Texas extended the period in which victims can sue through 30 years past the age of majority.
In addition, many states have also given victims a window in which to file a claim even if their statutes of limitations have expired. These windows are generally one to two years and are currently underway in these states.
Q. How Much Is the Average Settlement and Civil Award?
1. Recent sexual abuse settlements have shown possible plaintiffs what to expect as part of their settlement.
There are now almost two decades of statistics about sexual litigation settlements. First, we must tell you that each case is different and has its own facts. We are not able to make any representation that you will receive a certain amount in a case.
We can tell you numbers that come from actual cases that have settled. In the suits against the Catholic Church dioceses, there seems to be a pattern forming that the average victim receives a settlement between $900,000 and $1.3 million before attorney’s fees. Of course, there are some factors that could cause a settlement to depart from this range, and this range is only our estimation based on the publicly available settlements.
Cases that make it to the jury often result in higher damage awards. Many plaintiffs may make sympathetic victims in front of an outraged jury that wants to send a stern message to the defendant. For example, one of the clergy abuse cases against the Catholic Diocese of Duluth in Minnesota resulted in an award of over $8 million. After the verdict, the diocese filed for bankruptcy.
The amounts that victims may recover may now be affected by a trend that many organizations beset by claims are now filing for bankruptcy. Thus, the organization itself may lose the final say over their own suits, and the trustee ends up making decisions about settlements. The obvious effect of the bankruptcy filings may limit the amount that the plaintiff is able to recover. However, if your suit is against a company, the number of assets to satisfy a judgment are larger and the company still has control over its own settlement.
Q. What Is the Standard of Proof in a Child Molestation Civil Case?
1. The standard of proof in a civil court case is lower than that in a criminal case.
It is important to know that you do not need to prove that the abuse occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the standard of proof in a criminal case, and a civil case will have a different showing that needs to be made.
In a civil suit, you must prove your case by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This is a lower standard than in a criminal case. In other words, you must show that it is more probable than not that the abuse occurred.
A criminal conviction for the abuse is not a prerequisite for a civil lawsuit. You can sue even if the perpetrator was never arrested for their crimes. You can even file a suit if the perpetrator is no longer alive.
The lower standard of proof is helpful for victims as many of these cases are dealing with abuse that happened decades ago. Thus, witnesses and corroborating evidence may be difficult to find. Of course, these are helpful if they exist. However, expert testimony may also help establish that the plaintiff was the victim of abuse.
Steps to Take if You or a Loved One Has Been Sexually Abused or Assaulted
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, what you do depends on the nature of the assault and how long ago it occurred. If you were sexually abused many years ago, you can still report the crime to the police since criminal statutes of limitations regarding sex crimes largely do not exist. You should also seek the treatment of a psychologist in order to begin documenting the damage that you have suffered. Further, you should try to locate anyone who you think could have witnessed the abuse that you suffered who could testify on your behalf.
If the sexual assault was recent, be sure to report the crime to law enforcement so that they can perform an investigation. Also make sure to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Not only will you need to be treated, but prompt treatment is also another way to document your injuries in case you decide to file a lawsuit.
You will also be able to file a suit if your child was the victim of abuse as opposed to you.
Statistics About Childhood Sexual Assault
Statistics show that one American is sexually abused every 73 seconds. One child is sexually abused every nine minutes.
When it comes to children, most of the victims of sexual abuse are aged 12 to 17. Over the time period from 2009-2013, it was estimated that 63,000 children per year were the victims of substantiated abuse. For every case that is substantiated, there are numerous children who are too afraid to say anything or are simply not believed.
In adults, one in every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Roughly three percent of American men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Numerous other women have been the victim of unwanted touching or groping.
Sample Abuse Settlements & Jury Verdicts Involving Sexual Abuse Survivors
- The Diocese of Los Angeles paid a total of $660 million to settle a total of just over 500 lawsuits back in 2007. The Diocese itself released a report in 2004 which detailed some of the troubling sexual abuse histories of the Church. However, this did not disclose many key details and the District Attorney issued a subpoena for records from the Church. Even after the settlement, the Diocese has been sued numerous times and settled many cases. The Diocese now expects numerous additional lawsuits after California extended its statute of limitations in childhood abuse cases.
- Michigan State University paid $500 million to globally settle the cases brought against it in connection with the decades of abuse committed by Dr. Larry Nassar. The perpetrator was a USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University who sexually abused hundreds of women and girls over an almost four-decade period.
- The Los Angeles Unified School District was sued by 81 plaintiffs after allegations of abuse committed by one school district employee. He had committed extreme instances of sex abuse of many years, and the district was ultimately responsible for the actions of one of its employees. The total settlement constituted two percent of its annual general fund budget. The Los Angeles School Unified School District has been sued numerous times since then in other sex abuse lawsuits. Recently, the District has settled several other lawsuits alleging sex abuse by teachers. There have been other large-scale settlements for $88 and $58 million respectively in addition to several other smaller settlements.
Here are some examples of jury awards so you have an idea of what occurs when a plaintiff is successful when the case goes to trial:
- The Boy Scouts of America have been the defendant in numerous lawsuits brought by men who were abused as young boys. One plaintiff won a jury award of $20 million which included $18.5 million of punitive damages. The punitive damages were assessed because of the Boy Scouts’ long pattern of having known about the abuse and not doing anything to address it. What makes the Boy Scouts’ conduct so egregious is that the organization had decades of documentation of the problem without taking any action about it. Another plaintiff in Connecticut received a jury verdict of $12.5 million against the Boy Scouts.
- In 2018, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were ordered by a jury to pay $35 million to a 21-year old woman who suffered abuse at the hands of a church member when she was a child. The national Jehovah’s Witness organization is alleged to have known of a pattern of child sex abuse and mismanaged the situation. This led to an award of punitive damages against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Note that you are not obligated to join a settlement and you can always have your case heard individually. There are certain advantages to joining a large settlement because it avoids the need for a jury trial. We recognize that sex abuse lawsuits are traumatic for a victim and not everyone is comfortable in testifying about what they experienced. Sometimes, victims will have no other choice but to testify about what they endured so that they can persuade a jury to award them damages.
In addition, just because a defendant has entered into a large settlement agreement, it does not eliminate your personal cause of action. So long as you are within the statute of limitations, you can still file a lawsuit.
Have You or a Loved One Been Sexually Abused or Assaulted? Get Legal Help Now
The sexual abuse attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC recognize that sexual abuse lawsuits are different than other cases even when you have the same legal rights. We understand that these lawsuits involve traumatic stress disorder and commit to working with you tactfully and respectfully while we fight for your legal rights. The laws in many states have been changed so that you, as an abuse survivor, can get the justice that you deserve.
Time is of the essence in filing your sex abuse lawsuit. In some cases, there could be a temporary waiver of the statute of limitations. In other cases, the defendant may be on the verge of bankruptcy. Call our legal team today to set up your free consultation to get the process of receiving compensation started.