Sexual violence is a serious problem in the United States, where there were 363,393 women and 30,586 men who reported they were raped or sexually assaulted in 2017 according to Statista. Sex crimes can take on a variety of different forms and anyone can be a victim. However, many victims are dissatisfied with the criminal justice system and the conviction rate for sex crimes. Fortunately, the criminal justice system is not the only recourse that sexual assault victims have: sex crime victims can file a civil lawsuit.
Criminal vs Civil Cases Involving Sex Crimes
The first difference between a criminal case and a civil case is who files it: criminal cases are filed by the state and civil cases are filed by individuals. For a criminal case, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant may face jail time, probation, and fines. For a civil case, a preponderance of evidence is necessary to establish guilt; in other words, a civil case only requires that the defendant is more likely to be guilty than not guilty. The purpose of a criminal case is to punish, while the purpose of a civil case is to help make the victim whole again as they try to recover from the physical and emotional damage that was inflicted.
Why File a Civil Lawsuit Involving a Sex Crime
Civil lawsuits are extremely difficult on the victim as every aspect of their life seems to come under scrutiny and they are often accused of lying or misrepresenting what happened for their own personal gain. Reliving the events can be extremely traumatic and if the defendant is not found guilty, the individual may feel victimized all over again.
In a criminal trial, all too often it seems that the attacker is found not guilty or there is a hung jury. With a civil lawsuit, however, there is a second chance to prove that the defendant is guilty and the victim is not lying or exaggerating. Keep in mind that the level of proof required in a civil case is not the same as a criminal case. Reasonable doubt is not required, but rather a preponderance of evidence (as alluded to earlier).
Some victims may want to file a civil lawsuit in order to receive monetary damages, but that is not always the case. Other victims may simply be seeking closure or to see the defendant held accountable for their actions — which makes sense in light of the fact that the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) points out that 40% of sex offenders will reoffend.
Approaches to Sex Crime Lawsuits
When it comes to a lawsuit involving a sex crime, the lawsuit takes the form of an intentional tort. A tort is a wrongful act that resulted in harm to the victim. It is important to note that sexual assault itself is not a legal theory which can be pursued. Possible legal theories for approaching a tort for a crime of a sexual nature can include assault/battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or negligent infliction of emotional distress (which applies to bystanders or witnesses of the assault).
When a civil case is won, monetary damages are normally paid to the defendant. The damages usually stem from emotional and physical harm that the victim suffered and will likely continue to suffer as a result of the assault. This suffering can include the physical aftermath as well as pain and suffering and PTSD. One key thing to keep in mind with civil damage suits for sexual assault is that even if you are awarded damages you may not be able to receive them if the victim simply does not have enough assets. This is why a third party is often sued in connection with a civil lawsuit for sex crimes, especially if the incident took place at a location such as a place of business, a school, or institution. In such cases, the third party would be held responsible for failing to provide adequate security or for what is known as negligent supervision.
Statute of Limitations
In the state of Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for a civil case involving a sex crime is two years from the time that the abuse occurred if the victim is over 18 years old. However, if the victim was under the age of 18 at the time the abuse occurred, then the victim has 12 years after their 18th birthday to file a civil case. If a child is involved, a guardian can file a civil lawsuit for them.
Unlike a criminal lawsuit which requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a guilty verdict, a civil lawsuit only depends on a preponderance of evidence. If monetary damages are of great importance and the accused does not have significant personal assets, then it may be wise to include a third party in the lawsuit. Also keep the statute of limitations in mind. Failure to file your suit within the allotted time frame may result in your claim being automatically discarded.
Sacchetta & Baldino
If you or someone you care about has been the victim of a sex crime, it may be time to consider filing a civil lawsuit. The experienced trial lawyers at Sacchetta & Baldino specialize in personal injury cases, including those related to sexual assault, molestation, rape, and abuse. Our team will aggressively pursue the damages that you legally have a right to receive. Contact us today to discuss filing a civil case. You will be glad you did!