Separate from criminal law, California civil law allows a person to seek justice and compensation for the emotional and physical injuries sustained from all types of sexual violence. All victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse have the right to file a claim and sue perpetrators for their damages.
If you have been or currently are being sexually assaulted or abused, get to a place of safety and contact law enforcement. After you are safe, you can contact a civil attorney who can assist you in obtaining compensation for your damages.
SEXUAL OFFENSES THAT CAN LEAD TO SEXUAL ASSAULT CIVIL CASES
Any type of sex crime can be the grounds for a civil lawsuit. The following are common sexual offenses that lead to civil sexual assault lawsuits:
- Rape is defined as the unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, that can be with or without force, and completed by a sex organ, another body part, or with a foreign object, completed without the consent of the victim.
- Sexual Molestation. Molestation, also known as sex abuse, is abusive sexual behavior, and is often perpetuated by using force and/or taking advantage of another. When the abuse is by an adult towards an adolescent, this is referred to as child sexual abuse or statutory rape.
- Sexual Battery. Sexual battery is often a crime that is sexual in nature but does not involve penetration. This may be unwanted sexual touching of intimate body parts through fraud or without consent.
- Indecent Exposure. Indecent exposure is regarded as the deliberate public exposure by a person of a portion of their body, often a sexual organ, in a manner that is contrary to standards of appropriate behavior.
- Aggravated Sexual Abuse. Aggravated sexual abuse often involve the use of force, fear, or threats of bodily injury, death or kidnapping to coerce a victim to engage in an unwanted sexual act. It can also occur when drugs are given to an unknowing victim in order to render the victim unconscious for sexual purposes.
Other types of offenses that can give rise to sexual assault cases can include sex and human trafficking, prostitution, the purchase or sale of a child for sexual purposes, the possession or distribution of child pornography, and sexual harassment.
PARTIES THAT CAN SUE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT CRIMES IN CALIFORNIA
Anyone who has been the victim of unwanted touching or an unwanted sexual act of any time can sue for the damages. If you have a question about whether you can seek civil restitution, speak to an attorney.
In addition to the victim, family members may also be able to sue for damages if they meet one of the following criteria:
- The sexual assault or abuse resulted in the victim’s death. In this case the family of the victim can bring a wrongful death or survivor’s action on behalf of the victim’s estate.
- The family member witnessed the assault, resulting in a potential action for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
- The assault or abuse resulted in a loss of moral support, intimacy, or companionship to a spouse or registered domestic partner (called the loss of consortium.)
WHAT IS NEEDED TO FILE A SEXAUL ASSAULT LAWSUIT
A common question is whether or not a victim must file criminal charges before they can file a civil lawsuit. In California, victims are not required to obtain a criminal conviction, or even a police report, before they can sue for damages. This means that even if the assault or abuse was never reported to the police, a victim can still seek damages.
While a police report and criminal charges are not necessary, they can be helpful in a civil damages case. If reported, and followed by an investigation, any evidence located may be helpful in a lawsuit. Additionally, going to the police may help in bolstering the victim’s credibility. It is not uncommon for victims to not go to police, however, as victims often fear being believed and mistreated.
If a victim does report to the police and the District Attorney chooses to not pursue criminal prosecution, or accepts a plea bargain, victims may feel discouraged. In this situation, a victim may feel they do not have a strong civil case. This does not mean a victim should not bring a civil case, or that a civil case will not be successful.
In a civil case, the victim will actually be a party to the proceedings, meaning they get to decide whether the case is settled outside of court or if it goes to a trial.
Finally, in a civil lawsuit, the burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases. This means that while the District Attorney may not have been able to prosecute a case to prove the extremely high burden of proof, a civil attorney may be able to meet the lower burden of proof for civil liability.
SEXUAL ASSAULT CIVIL LAWSUIT BURDEN OF PROOF
There is a difference between the burden of proof required for criminal and civil lawsuits in California. For criminal cases, the guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a high standard that can be hard to prove.
In civil lawsuits, however, the burden is by a “preponderance of the evidence.” To satisfy this burden the jury must find that it is “more likely than not” that the defendant did in fact assault or abuse the victim.
Another key difference is that in criminal trials it is necessary for all 12 jurors to agree on the defendant’s guilt before a conviction can be reached, while in civil cases it only takes 9 jurors to agree that the defendant is liable.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES
In California, victims who were adults at the time of the sexual assault and abuse have two years from the date of the assault seek civil damages. The time period for criminal charges is often shorter.
One exception is when the defendant is convicted of criminal charges the victim has one year from the date of the judgment to file suit, even if it has been longer than two years since the abuse.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse and assault have the opportunity to file a civil lawsuit until the later of the following:
- The 40th birthday of the victim.
- 5 years from the date that either the victim discovered, or should have discovered, that psychological illness and or/injury which they experienced after they turned 18 was caused by the assault or abuse.
When a plaintiff is over the age of 40, they still may file a claim if they meet the following criteria:
- A certificate is obtained from a mental health profession who did not treat the victim, stating that there is a legitimate reason as to why the plaintiff could not have discovered the harm earlier, and
- The victim’s attorney, certifying that they have reviewed the findings of the mental health professional as well as the facts of the case and has concluded that the claim has merit.
The five-year delayed discovery rule is not suspended during this period, so a potential plaintiff who is close to the age of 40 should contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that their claim is brought in time.
WHO MAY BE HELD RESPONSIBLE IN A SEXUAL ASSAULT CASE
The perpetrator of the assault and the abuse can always be held responsible in an assault case. In addition to the perpetrator, there may be other parties who can be held liable. This includes anyone who violates a duty of care in California, if the injury sustained is a result of the party’s negligence. Simply put if sexual assault occurs because of someone else’s negligence, they may also be liable.
Examples of parties who may be liable include:
- Religious institutions
- Property owners and property liability insurers
- Event coordinators and promoters
- Schools and school districts
An attorney can help victims determine who, in addition to the perpetrator, may be held liable for their assault or abuse.
DEFENSES TO CIVIL SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWSUITS
After a claim is filed, the defendant will most likely assert one or many defenses, in an attempt to rid themselves of liability. A few examples of common defenses include:
- The sexual action was consensual
- The lawsuit was filed after the statute of limitations had run
- That the defendant did not actual commit the act
- That no sexual act took place.
These defenses have limitations, however, and can often be overcome.
POTENTIAL OUTCOMES IN SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWSUITS
Unlike cases in the criminal division, which can lead to jail time and other penalties, civil cases can lead to monetary rewards. This includes compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of future earnings, psychological counseling, loss of enjoyment of life, insomnia, anxiety, emotional distress, and trauma.
Additionally, a plaintiff may also recover punitive damages if they can adequately prove that a defendant acted with fraud, oppression, or malice. Punitive damages have the goal of acting as an example by punishing the defendant. This is often applicable in sexual assault cases as defendants commonly act with a willful disregard of the victim’s rights.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN ASSAULTED
If you have been a victim of assault, first and foremost make sure you receive any medical treatment that you need. Your health and safety are of upmost importance.
After you are safe and have gotten any necessary medical treatment, consider your options for reporting your assault.
If you were raped, seek a rape kit. There are trained nurses who complete rape kits which preserve evidence and can be helpful in both criminal and civil cases.
The most important things to do are to seek immediate help and do what you can to preserve evidence. Even if you do not think you will pursue a lawsuit, you may change your mind and will be extremely grateful for the evidence you have saved.
CONTACT AN ATTORNEY
If you or a loved one has suffered from sexual abuse or assault, the attorneys at Silva Injury Law would love to discuss your options. We will fight for you and seek compensation for your suffering.