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Sexual Assault Victims File Civil Lawsuits Seeking Money Damages

Although the 50 woman who have come to light in the last year claiming that Bill Cosby sexually abused and raped them earlier in his career have undoubtedly brought new attention to the problem of sexual violence, there have been many research studies and other reports published in the last decade to document the distressingly high statistics on the subject of sexual assault, child sexual molestation and rape.  The problem of sexual violence cuts across all populations, meaning the victims are not isolated by their age, gender, race or socioeconomic background. Some researchers and people working in law enforcement claim the problem is epidemic.

According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesChildren’s Bureau, over 60,000 cases of child sexual abuse were documented in that year. The following year, in 2014, Broward County reported approximately 500 cases of child on child sexual abuse, a number that alarmingly led all the other States nationwide on the subject. In fact, earlier this year in May 2015, the Broward County Crime Commission sponsored a one day symposium to educate the public and address potential solutions to the problem of child on child sexual abuse. If you or a child you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, then you should contact a Broward Sexual Assault Attorney.

Victims of sexual assault and sexual battery crimes oftentimes file a civil lawsuit seeking monetary compensation against the perpetrator – regardless of the outcome in the criminal trial (assuming the State Attorney actually files criminal charges).  In other words, sexual battery (rape) and sexual assault are not only criminal acts punishable by imprisonment, but also separate and very actionable “intentional torts” that give rise to civil liability claims by the victims. An intentional tort, although different in some aspects from a “negligence” claim, specifically concerning the element of “intent,” is a personal injury action that allows the victim to seek money damages against his or her assailant. (A detailed outline of the particular legal differences between these two types of personal injury actions is outside the scope of this article.)

Florida law recognizes 7 different intentional torts, 4 of which are relevant to the subject of sexual abuse: assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  An evaluation of the facts by an experienced Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer will be necessary to determine which specific causes of action are viable. Notwithstanding that the outcome of a civil lawsuit is unpredictable, when the underlying facts involve egregious behavior, such as rape or sexual violence, it is likely a civil jury will award punitive damages, in addition to compensatory money damages, to the plaintiff/victim for the emotional distress and/or physical injuries suffered.

In addition to filing an civil lawsuits against the perpetrator based on an intentional tort, many rape and sexual assault victims oftentimes sue other people or entities, such as the employer of the perpetrator, their landlord, a school, a church, or a child’s daycare center, as this third party may be legally responsible for the plaintiff being victimized in the first place. The third party is typically sued under a negligence theory.  For example, if the defendant-landlord, who has a legal duty to maintain the premises where the victim lives, failed to inspect the property and replace burned out light bulbs in the area where the perpetrator was hiding, or if the defendant-preschool was negligent in failing to conduct a criminal background check on its employees and therefore hired a convicted child molester, the victims have the legal right to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation, not only against the perpetrator, but against the negligent third party.

In almost all civil lawsuits, there is a limited amount of time in which the law will let an injured person file an action for money damages against the tortfeasor. The laws that govern these timeframes are called the “Statute of Limitations.” In 2010, the Florida legislature passed a bill removing the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual battery, basically allowing them to file a civil lawsuit at anytime, so long as certain age parameters are met (based on the date of the sexual battery). A full discussion of the 2010 law is also outside the scope of this article, but generally speaking, the new amended law is applicable only if the civil action would not have otherwise been time barred on or before July 1, 2010.

Charles A. Morehead, III, is an experienced Broward Sexual Assault attorney and personal injury lawyer. He has successfully handled several high profile cases involving the sensitive issues of sexual assault and abuse. He is available for a free consultation to discuss your rights or any of the subjects in this article.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse or if you know a child who has been sexually assaulted as a result of negligent hiring, supervision or care, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Abramowitz, Pomerantz & Morehead, P.A.