On Thursday July 26, 2018, a Los Angeles jury awarded $45 million to a girl who endured sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and four men at a home where she was placed by the county despite evidence she was being molested. The girl, now 15, said in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County that social workers had reasonable suspicions she was being abused, but they failed to inform authorities. The girl’s mother and the men were previously convicted of abusing the girl starting in 2010.

Unfortunately, cases like this are not isolated events. However, victims of sexual abuse do have ways to hold a perpetrator accountable.  Similar to the brave young woman in the Los Angeles case, a victim of sexual abuse can initiate a civil lawsuit. While a criminal case is designed to hold a defendant accountable to the State, a civil lawsuit is designed to hold the defendant accountable to the victim.  In a civil case, the victim initiates and controls the case and brings the action regardless if the perpetrator has been found guilty in a criminal prosecution.

How civil lawsuits help victims of sexual abuse

There are several benefits for a victim that seeks justice through the civil justice system.  Lawsuits can provide financial resources to help victims rebuild their lives by providing compensation.  A victim of sexual abuse that files a civil case may be entitled to compensation for economic costs as a result of the abuse including medical expenses, mental health counseling, and lost wages.  A civil court can order the perpetrator also pay non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, damage to family relationships, and psychological injuries. In some jurisdictions, the civil court can also order punitive damages.  The compensation can help a victim rebuild their lives from the destruction of the abuse they endured.

A civil suit may also provide a victim with a sense of control because the victim is a party to the civil case. Victims in a civil suit cannot be excluded from the courtroom, even if they are going to testify as a witness. They also have final approval of settlement proposals, and can choose their own attorney that is solely focused on representing the victim’s rights.

Civil litigation can provide victims with valuable information about how the crime was allowed to occur. The discovery process in a civil case will provide many answers to questions including what the defendant knew, when the defendant gained such knowledge that helped them commit the crime, and how the defendant gained access to the victim.

Finally, sometimes civil lawsuits help promote change by publicizing an issue or draw attention to a problem. For example, lawsuits against the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse of children by priests raised public awareness and created pressure for the Church to protect children from future abuse.  Similarly, the verdict in the Los Angeles case cited above will raise awareness of the challenges that need to be addressed throughout the foster and adoption system nationwide.

If you or a loved one is the victim of sexual abuse, please contact the personal injury lawyers of Cohen & Malad, LLP to explore your options.