Sexual abuse or sexual assault offenses are incredibly common in California and nationwide, but people need to be aware that offenders in these cases do not have to be convicted of crimes or even face criminal charges for victims to file civil claims. When you are the victim of any kind of sexual abuse in California who needs help holding another party accountable, be sure to seek the help of a San Francisco personal injury lawyer.
Victims of sexual abuse can be entitled to both compensatory damages and punitive damages, which may include awards for medical bills, counseling, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring, insomnia, anxiety, and emotional distress. Family members close to victims, such as spouses or registered domestic partners, can also file suit in these cases.
Civil Injury Claims for Sexual Abuse Victims
Any person who is the victim of unwanted touching or unwanted sexual acts has the ability to sue another party for damages. Criminal convictions and police reports are not requirements for filing suit.
It is important for every person to understand that civil cases have a completely different burden of proof than criminal cases, which is a big reason why many law enforcement organizations may decline to file charges in these cases. Whereas a prosecutor in a criminal case has to prove an offender’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a victim only needs to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which equates to basically being more than 50 percent.
Additionally, criminal trials require all 12 jurors to agree on a defendant’s guilt. In a civil case, you will only need nine of the 12 jurors to agree on holding a person or entity liable.
The statute of limitations can differ for civil injury claims depending on whether the victim is a child or an adult. Adults are bound by the typical two-year statute of limitations that applies in most personal injury cases, but one important exception here relates to offenders who are convicted of felony offenses because victims can have up to one year after the date of a judgment to file suit, even when their case would have otherwise been time-barred.
Under California Assembly Bill No. 218, also known as the California Child Victims Act, approved in 2019, childhood sexual abuse began to be referred to instead as childhood sexual assault. The law amended the California Code of Civil Procedure § 340.1 such that actions for recovery of damages suffered because of childhood sexual assault now require the time for commencement of an action to be within 22 years of the date the victim attains the age of majority or within five years of the date that a victim discovers or reasonably should have discovered that a psychological injury or illness happening after the age of majority was the result of sexual assault, whichever period expires later.
This law relates to the following actions:
- An action against any person for the commission of an act of childhood sexual assault
- An action for liability against any individual or entity who owed a duty of care to a victim when a negligent or wrongful act by that person or entity was the legal cause of the childhood sexual assault resulting in the injury to the victim
- An action for liability against any individual or entity when an intentional act by the person or the entity was the legal cause of the childhood sexual assault that resulted in the injury to the victim
Rights of Sexual Abuse Victims to Sue Organizations
Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 340.1(b), any person who the victim of sexual assault proves was the result of a cover-up can recover treble damages (triple damages) against an offender who is found to have covered up a sexual assault of a minor. A cover-up is defined as a concerted effort to hide evidence relating to childhood sexual assault.
Keeping in mind that the California Child Victims Act provides an action for liability against any individual or entity who owed a duty of care, organizations can certainly be held liable when their failure to protect children resulted in child sexual abuse. Adults may have a basis for sexual assault claims against entities as well, such as employers when the crime was the result of negligent hiring, for example, or certain premises when negligent security caused a sexual assault.
The California Child Victims Act allows institutions and organizations to be liable when they knew, had reason to know, or were on notice of any misconduct creating a risk that an employee or other party would commit sexual assault against a child and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the acts of sexual assault against a child. Keeping in mind the aforementioned clause relating to cover-ups, institutions can be similarly liable when they engage in conduct that constitutes a cover-up, such as failing to report instances of sexual abuse or possibly dissuading victims from coming forward.
When a childhood sexual abuse victim is now 40 years of age, they may be able to take advantage of the delayed discovery doctrine, which involves filing a certificate of merit showing sufficient reason to believe that a victim was subject to childhood sexual abuse.
There are two kinds of certificates of merit in childhood sexual abuse cases. The first is filed by the victim’s attorney and provides basic facts of the case, the name of a licensed mental health practitioner who supports the case, and the attorney’s conclusion that they believe the victim was subjected to childhood sexual abuse.
The second type of certificate of merit is completed by a licensed mental health practitioner. This certificate also delves into some facts, explains why a practitioner believes there was childhood sexual abuse, and describes how the victim discovered the abuse at a later point in life.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with a San Francisco Personal Injury Lawyer
Are you a sexual abuse victim who is seeking to recover financial compensation for the harm to yourself? You will want to work with Cartwright Law Firm for compassionate and caring legal representation in these matters.
Our firm understands how traumatic it can be for sexual abuse victims to work with and rely on law enforcement agencies, so we can take the lead in your case and ensure that you are doing everything that is required to achieve a measure of justice. Feel free to call (415) 433-0444 or contact us online to receive a free consultation so we can examine your case more closely and explain all of the legal options that are available to you.