Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
Those who have been exposed to sexual abuse either personally or through a loved one know that the consequences can be life-altering. The trauma that victims of sexual abuse experience can cause physical, mental, and emotional anguish that may affect the victim and their family for years. Sexual abuse occurs much more frequently than any of us would care to admit, as it is often facilitated by the institutions that we trust and cherish.
The trust that we bestow in our schools, churches, and other organizations is what allows a society to flourish. When the leaders of those organizations take advantage of that trust by failing to prevent the harms of foreseeable sexual abuse within their control, they violate that trust. If an institution bears responsibility for providing a sexual abuser with the means and venue to harm its patrons, charges, or employees, the institution deserves to face the consequences. For this reason, victims of sexual abuse that occurred due to an institution’s negligent acts or inactions have the ability to name the institution in a lawsuit for the damages that they have suffered.
At The Law Office of Andrew Shubin, we have built our reputation on taking on the powers that be on behalf of our clients. Our dedicated institutional sexual abuse attorneys will make sure that you are compensated for the pain and suffering that you and your loved ones have experienced due to the negligence of those who you entrusted. For a free consultation, call us at (814) 826-3586.
Sexual Abuse Civil Claims
If you or a loved one was the victim of sexual abuse, you may have legal recourse to achieve compensation for the damages that your experience caused. Sexual abusers may be charged by the government for their crimes and may face prison time as a result. But the victims of sexual abuse have their own path to monetary retribution through the filing and trying of a civil case.
A civil lawsuit is different than a criminal trial. Criminal charges are levied by government prosecutors, who pursue sentences involving prison time, probation, and monetary penalties collected by the government. While a victim of sexual abuse may feel gratified or safer as a result of their abuser being locked up, none of these outcomes directly benefit the victim. Therefore, if the victim hopes to be made whole, their most promising action is filing a civil suit for damages stemming from the sexual abuse against those parties that were responsible.
Institutional Liability for Sexual Abuse
While the language varies from state to state, the general legal theory of institutional liability for sexual abuse remains somewhat constant across jurisdictions. To prove liability in a sexual abuse case against a third party, you must demonstrate the following: (1) the institution owed some kind of duty to the victim, (2) the institution breached that duty through some action or inaction, and (3) the institution’s breach of that duty caused or permitted the sexual abuse to occur.
Institutional Duty to Prevent Sexual Abuse
Property-owning entities typically have duties to reasonably protect against potential harms that might foreseeably befall their patrons, clients, employees, or anyone else to which they owe a legal responsibility. In other words, if something bad could happen that a business or institution could prevent internally, they have a legal obligation to try their best to prevent it from happening. Determining whether the institution did what they could or should have to prevent the sexual abuse is a question of law that is argued in court using evidence of what is expected of other similar institutions.
Institutional Breach of Duty to Prevent Sexual Abuse
If it is determined by the court that the institution failed to take the proper measures or precautions to prevent the sexual abuse from occurring, the institution is “in breach of” (or has violated) their duty to the victim. Proving breach is critical in proving liability of an institution in a sexual abuse civil case. Examples of evidence that an institution breached their duty include an institution’s failure to perform background checks, follow up on prior reports of sexual misconduct, or institute effective security measures.
Institutional Breach as a Cause of Sexual Abuse
Whether the institution breached their duties to the victim does not matter unless their breach materially contributed to or caused the sexual abuse to occur. For instance, if the institution hired a sexual abuser without conducting a background check, but the sexual abuser had no history of sexual abuse that would have been uncovered in a background check, then the institution’s failure to examine the history of the abuser was not a cause of the abuse for legal purposes. The legal theory of cause in a civil case for damages varies depending on jurisdiction. If you have questions about the rules in your particular state, our experienced institutional sexual abuse attorneys can help explain what is required.
Foundationally, there generally must have been some misconduct (i.e., sexual abuse) for liability to be imputed upon an institution. How sexual abuse is defined depends upon the statutory language of sex crime laws of the state in which the abuse occurred. States vary significantly on the terms used to define sexual abuse violations, so it is imperative that you speak to an institutional sexual abuse attorney about what will constitute sexual abuse for the purposes of your potential civil lawsuit.
Levels of institutional liability in a civil suit to recover damages for sexual abuse will vary by state, and usually depend on several of the following factors:
- The form and criminality of abuse that occurred
- The age of the victim or victims involved
- The relationship between the victim and the abuser
- The relationship between the victim and the liable institution
- The extent of the abuse
- The oversight capabilities of the institution
- The nature of the institution
- The potential for the abuse to occur had the institution behaved differently
Institutional Sexual Abuse of Children
Children are the most susceptible and vulnerable category of victims of sexual abuse. It is estimated that almost 20% of girls experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Further, instances of child sexual abuse often occur in multiples, as child sexual abusers will often target more than one victim at a time. The most common venues of child sexual abuse are places under the control of institutions that have enabled the abuser in one way or another.
Child sexual abuse is prevalent because abusers are able to assume roles in a child’s life that entails trust. Abusers may occupy such roles as teacher, coach, or religious figure. Parents and children are implored by society to attribute a level of faith in the virtue of the position, only to be betrayed by a criminal imposter hiding in plain sight.
This is because the faith of children and parents rests in the individual but also the institution that holds the individual out as their representative. When parents show faith in a teacher, they are showing faith in the school. When children show faith in a clergy member, they are showing faith in the church. An institution’s negligent dereliction of that faith is reprehensible, and deserves punishment.
In many jurisdictions, civil lawsuits for sexual abuse where the victim is a minor have more flexible time restrictions and yield more significant damages. Legislators try to act to ensure that those responsible for sexual abuse of children are punished to the greatest extent possible. To hear more about the specifics of child sexual abuse suits against institutions, speak to our attorneys today.
Damages in Institutional Sexual Abuse Cases
Victims of sexual assault due to the negligence of an institution have the ability to recover for the harms that they suffered in a court of law. However, it is often the case that the abuser alone does not have the financial ability to wholly compensate the victim according to what the court deems the victim is rightfully owed. Therefore, where an institution is liable, it is critical for the sake of the victim’s recovery that they be named in a sexual abuse civil suit for damages.
Economic Damages in Institutional Sexual Abuse Cases
In most cases, sexual assault victims may recover both economic and non-economic damages in a civil suit against an institution. Economic damages are tangible, quantifiable expenses that have resulted due to the sexual abuse. Examples of economic damages may include hospital costs, medical care, ambulance fees, prescriptions, specialist visits, rehabilitative therapy, and wages lost during recovery from injuries. For the purposes of economic damages, it is important that a potential plaintiff carefully gather and record all receipts and invoices for expenses incurred as a result of injuries from the sexual abuse.
Non-Economic Damages in Institutional Sexual Abuse Cases
Sexual assault victims also experience injuries that cannot so easily be tallied as exact sums. Victims of sexual abuse often experience psychological and emotional hardships as a result of their trauma. The effects of the trauma may last for months or years, and many victims fail to fully recover. The court may award additional compensation for non-economic damages, a categorization that attempts to account for these additional injuries.
For the purposes of non-economic damages in an institutional abuse civil suit, a court will consider rationales such as pain and suffering, chronic pain, loss of enjoyment, and loss of consortium (or difficulty in sustaining personal relationships). Depending on the jurisdiction, a court may also award punitive damages, which are intended to punish and discourage the negligent behavior of institutions that enables sexual abuse.
States often differ in their methods of calculating non-economic damages in sexual abuse civil suits against institutions. Some states even impose caps on recovery amounts for non-economic damages. The applicability of these caps will depend on several factors such as the type of institution involved and the theory of damages used. Speak to one of our institutional child abuse attorneys for more information about how your jurisdiction determines non-economic damages.
Statute of Limitations for Institutional Sexual Abuse Civil Claims
In almost every variety of civil lawsuit, the government has enacted what is called a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations serves as a time limit on a potential plaintiff’s ability to file a lawsuit. These statutes of limitations vary depending on the offense alleged, the plaintiff and defendant involved, and the state in which the offense occurred. If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations has expired, the court is obligated to discard the suit.
This is no different for institutional sexual abuse claims. In fact, the time requirements for the filing of sexual abuse civil suits are often more complex than those for other types of lawsuits. The complexities occur for several reasons.
Firstly, there is rarely much clarity over when the clock begins to run on the statute of limitations. Secondly, legislation is frequently passing and amending prior statutes, causing the landscape of sexual abuse civil suits to change rapidly. Third, most states have provisions about exceptions to the statute of limitations where the victim of the sexual abuse was a minor at the time of the abuse. These provisions are typically known as “lookback periods,” and while many states have some form of them already, there are others that do not.
It is important to know the specifics of the restrictions on your potential case so that you avoid filing too late and having your otherwise valid case thrown out.
Lookback Periods for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Civil Claims
As stated above, many states permit special extensions, or “lookback periods,” of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse civil claims where the victim was a minor. Without these lookback periods, most civil claims would expire before being brought, as child victims of sexual abuse face multiple unjust obstacles to realizing their claim. Many children who are victims do not realize that they are victims until they are much older. Others fail to report that they were abused due to immense shame or repression of the memory, a natural neural response to intense trauma at a young age.
Some states such as Arkansas have adjusted their statute of limitations to begin upon the actual discovery of the sexual abuse, rather than the date of the incident itself. Others such as Pennsylvania allow for the claim to be filed at any point before the victim reaches a certain age. It is not uncommon for a state to involve a consideration of multiple factors, including the two mentioned above. Whatever state in which the institutional sexual abuse occurred, our lawyers can advise you of your options.
Victim of Institutional Sexual Abuse? Call Us to Get Justice Today
The Law Office of Andrew Shubin knows what it takes to bring your case to court and get you the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one may have a potential institutional sexual abuse case, we urge that you call us for a free consultation at (814) 826-3586.