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Can a Victim of Sexual Violence Sue a Perpetrator for Damages?

April 11, 2019


Although most incidents of assault are prosecuted in criminal court, victims of sexual assault can (and often do) file a civil lawsuit against their perpetrator in tort court. Whether a criminal case results in fines, jail time, probation, or restraining orders, the only way that a victim receives compensation for the harm they suffered is to obtain a settlement or judgment after bringing a sexual assault civil lawsuit. If the defendant was convicted in criminal court of sexual abuse (or assault), the victim under civil case proceedings only needs to prove suffering, as a result of the abuse.

Because of the egregious nature of sexual crimes, victims may be awarded a larger settlement. But, filing a sexual assault lawsuit and receiving compensation can be tricky. If the jury in a criminal proceeding has any reasonable doubt, they may not convict the defendant of a crime. As the victim of sexual abuse, a lack of conviction in criminal court can be frustrating and may seem unfair. But, the burden of proof in a tort case requires only a preponderance of the evidence, which is determined at a much lower level than a conviction in a criminal hearing.

Since there is not a cause of action for sexual assault, the victim's attorney will bring a lawsuit based on a wrongful act, such as:

  1. Assault and Battery - Although assault can merely be a threat of harm, battery is the actual act that caused the harm.
  2. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress - Based on the outrageous conduct by the perpetrator that causes the plaintiff to suffer extreme emotional distress.
  3. False Imprisonment - Wrongful holding of another person captive against his or her will.
  4. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress - Typically reserved for a bystander or witness to the attack and subsequent sexual abuse.

Sometimes the perpetrator does not have the financial assets to pay a victim for a settlement of damages. In addition to suing the assailant, you lawyer may also name a third party who may be responsible. For example, if the assault occurred in a building's alley, a negligent property manager's premises liability coverage may pay for a victim's damages.

Discuss Your Sexual Assault Case with a Personal Injury Attorney

Although no amount of money can truly heal the wounds a victim suffers due to sexual abuse, the personal injury attorneys at Schackow & Mercadante can quantify your damages and document a lawsuit for civil court. As mentioned above, civil court cases involving sexual assault often include suing an employer who failed to properly screen or monitor and employee with a known history for violence, or a property owner, such as a business, innkeeper, landlord, government agency, school, or hospital, that did not provide a safe environment.

As previously discussed, criminal cases are considered acts against the state (city, state, county or federal government) but sexual assault cases may give way to civil liability, similar to being charged with homicide (criminal court) and also sued for wrongful death (civil court). Regardless of the order in which the cases are heard, criminal charges are punishable by fines, jail time and other penalties, whereas tort cases focus on recovering money or compensation for damages to the victim. If you were the victim of sexual abuse or assault, contact our law firm to speak directly with an experienced Gainesville personal injury lawyer.

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