New York City Personal Injury Law Blog

Can a Sexual Assault Victim File a Civil Lawsuit?

Posted on Mar 22, 2016 in Personal Injury, Personal Injury FAQs

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 346,830 sexual assaults or rapes of persons 12 years or older were reported in 2012. And according to a new survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU), 23%, or 1 in 4, of female college students said that they are sexually assaulted before they graduate.

Damages in a case of sexual assault (or sexual abuse) will come from the physical and emotional harm suffered by the victim

Damages in a case of sexual assault (or sexual abuse) will come from the physical and emotional harm suffered by the victim.

These numbers are significantly higher than the numbers reported in 2014. The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) reports that approximately 20 million out of 112 million women, or 18%, in the United States have been raped during their lifetime and approximately 30% of cases involving sexual assault are reported.

Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault can seek justice through both the criminal and civil justice systems. They can, and often do, file a lawsuit against the perpetrator in civil court. Although any kind of sexual assault incident can lead to a criminal prosecution, the only way that a victim of sexual assault can get monetary compensation for the harm suffered is a civil lawsuit.

Types of Claims and Damages

The specific facts of the case play a role in the type and amount of compensation available in a civil lawsuit over sexual abuse. It also depends on the “cause of action” (or legal theory) on which the personal injury lawsuit is based. Since there is no cause of action called “sexual assault,” another legal theory will need to be chosen to hold the perpetrator liable – the most probable being assault and battery, or Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

No matter what legal theory the civil case proceeds under, damages in a case of sexual assault (or sexual abuse) will come from the physical and emotional harm suffered by the victim, and will continue to suffer.

Due to the heinous nature of these crimes, very high damages are often rewarded to victims by a jury. This can result in the perpetrator being held liable to pay a lot of money. Unfortunately, it may be very difficult to collect high damages if the defendant is not particularly wealthy. Because coverage for intentional acts is excluded in liability insurance policies, the perpetrator’s personal assets are usually the only source of compensation.

Proving a Sexual Assault Case in Civil Court

When it comes to proving that defendant’s liability for the assault, your chance for success in your civil lawsuit may be better if the incident resulted in a criminal prosecution and the defendant was convicted. “Collateral estoppel”, a complex legal rule, may entitle you to bring in evidence that was already presented in a criminal case in which the jury has already found the defendant guilty of committing the assault.

Even if there was no prosecution or the defendant was not convicted, the victim in the civil case will find it easier to show that the defendant is liable for committing the alleged abuse. This is because in a civil case, the standard of proof is lower, compared with what is required to be proven in criminal court. To find the defendant civilly liable for assault, the plaintiff is only required to show that the defendant is more likely than not to have committed the alleged wrongful act.

The phrase for this standard in legal terms is “by a preponderance of the evidence”. On the other hand, in the criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof, which means that they are required to prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” – and this is a standard that is much harder to meet.

If you or a loved one is a victim of sexual assault, in addition to a criminal defense lawyer, you should seek out for the help of an experienced and marvelous New York civil attorney at Rosenberg, Minc, Falloff, & Wolff at 212 697 9280. Discuss the details of your case at a no-cost consultation – the first meeting is on us.

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