What damages can I collect in a civil lawsuit for sexual assault?
Even though any kind of sexual assault incident can give rise to a criminal prosecution -- which can result in jail time, fines, probation, and other sanctions against the defendant if a conviction is obtained -- a civil lawsuit is usually the only way that a sexual assault victim can get monetary compensation for harm suffered.
The amount and type of compensation that is available in a civil lawsuit over sexual abuse will depend on the specific facts of the case, and the legal theory on which the personal injury lawsuit is based (a legal theory is called a “cause of action” in this context). Since there is no cause of action called “sexual abuse,” you’ll need to choose another legal theory under which to hold the perpetrator liable -- which probably means Assault and Battery, or Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, or Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
Regardless of the legal theory under which the civil case proceeds, damages in a sexual abuse case will come from the physical and emotional harm the victim suffered, and will continue to suffer, as a result of the abuse.
As far as proving that the defendant is liable for the assault, if the incident gave rise to a criminal prosecution (and the defendant was convicted), you may have a better chance for success in your civil lawsuit. A complex legal rule known as “collateral estoppel” may entitle you (the plaintiff in the civil suit) to bring in evidence that a jury in a criminal case has already found the defendant guilty of committing the abuse.
Even if there was no corresponding criminal case (no prosecution and no conviction), the plaintiff in a civil case will have an easier time of showing that the defendant is liable for committing the alleged abuse. That’s because the standard of proof is lower in a civil case, compared with what must be proven in criminal court. In order to find the defendant civilly liable for abuse, the plaintiff only needs to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the alleged wrongful act (the legalese phrase for this standard is “by a preponderance of the evidence”).
by: David Goguen, J.D.