The impact of sexual violence on victims, their families and their communities can’t be understated. There are an estimated 11,000 sex offenses reported in Florida annually. The true number of offenses is believed to be much higher, while the number of criminal convictions is substantially lower.
Justice in the criminal courts may be evasive, as those cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But victims of sexual assault have another option: Civil litigation.
Our Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm know that every victim of sexual assault in Florida has the right to file a civil lawsuit and pursue financial compensation from the perpetrator – as well as any other parties whose conduct gave rise to the conditions that allowed the crime to occur.
This is true for a victim of any violent crime that resulted in personal injuries or wrongful death.
Some examples of cases wherein sex assault victims may want to pursue civil action include:
- Sexual Assault at School
- Sexual Assault by Clergy
- Sexual Abuse at Daycare
- Statutory Rape
- Sexual Assault at Work
- Sexual Assault by Coaches
- Sexual Assault on Vacation
- Human Trafficking
- Nursing Home Sexual Assault
A knowledgeable injury attorney can help you develop an effective legal strategy. Plaintiffs in these cases must define a “cause of action.” Unlike in a criminal case, there is no cause of action for liability for “sexual abuse.” Instead, plaintiffs may have the option to allege liability for:
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
- False Imprisonment
- Negligent Hiring or Retention
- Premises Liability
- Inadequate Security
At The Ansara Law Firm, our sex assault injury lawyers are committed to protecting the rights and securing the financial well-being of victims of these horrible crimes.Criminal vs. Civil Proceedings
To understand the types of compensation available to victims of rape, molestation and assault, we first need to draw the clear line between the criminal vs. civil cases.
In a criminal case, prosecutors represent the government and are tasked with proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, your attorney represents YOU and need only meet the lesser proof burden of liability by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This lower burden of proof is why a criminal case might be dropped, but you can still go after responsible parties in a civil case.
In a criminal case, victims serve the state as witnesses. In a civil case, the victim is the plaintiff and therefore has significant control over key decisions, including whether to file the claim, accept a settlement, take the case to trial and what type of damages to seek.
In a criminal case, the prosecution’s end goal is punishment of the defendant. Sometimes restitution is ordered as part of the criminal case, but not always. In a civil action, the primary goal is restoring the victim.Avenues of Compensation for Sex Assault Victims
There are numerous possible ways sex assault victims can be compensated.
Some of those may include:
- Workers’ compensation claim. This would be applicable if the sexual assault occurred while you were acting in the course and scope of employment. For example, if you work as in hospitality and were assaulted by a guest while cleaning a room or if you work at a nightclub and were assaulted by a boss – these would be examples of work-related injuries for which you would be entitled to compensation. Workers’ compensation is only for damages from one’s own employer and will only cover medical bills and a portion of lost wages.
- Restitution . This is available through the criminal courts, with the judge given significant discretion over the terms.
- State crime victim compensation. Victims of violent crimes can seek compensation from the state – up to $15,000 if you have suffered catastrophic injuries.
- Civil lawsuit against attacker. Because restitution and the crime victim compensation fund usually don’t cover all victim’s economic losses and fail to provide damages for difficult-to-quantify damages (i.e., loss of life enjoyment, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.), one may choose to seek civil damages directly from the attacker. Keep in mind, one must consider whether the attacker has enough assets to cover your damages in the event you win, given that most insurers exclude payment for intentional wrongdoing of insureds. A judgment is not worth the paper it’s written on if you can’t collect on it, which is why your attorney may want early on to do an asset search with the help of a personal investigator, which will help you determine whether such action is worth your time.
- Civil lawsuit against third parties. These would be individuals or entities that had a duty to protect the victim, but breached in that duty, giving rise to the circumstances that allowed the attack to happen or the abuse to continue. Although insurers won’t cover damages for intentional harm, these third-party claims usually are predicated on some theory of negligence (i.e., premises liability, inadequate security, etc.)
The statute of limitations on these cases can be a bit confusing, but in general, claims of sexual abuse or incest resting on a theory of general negligence or an intentional tort must be brought within four years of the incident.
However, in cases where victims were underage, there are special rules, which our injury attorneys can better explain in person. Essentially, claims can be brought within seven years of one’s 18th birthday if the abuse occurred when you were under 18. One can also file a claim within four years after leaving the dependency of an abuse (even if victim is over 25). Claims can also be filed within four years from the time a causal relationship was discovered between the abuse and the injury. A 2010 update to the law – F.S. 95.11 – allows victims who were younger than 16 when the abuse occurred to commence a civil action at any time.
Contact The Ansara Law Firm for more information about pursuing a civil claim for damages after sexual assault, abuse or molestation. Call us at (888) ANSARA-8 for a free case review.