Historically, victims of sexual assault and abuse have had limited access to the civil justice system because of laws limiting their ability to file sex abuse lawsuits. But we are entering a new era on the path to justice for sexual assault victims. Recent legislation in Maryland has made it easier for childhood sexual abuse victims to bring civil lawsuits, even if the abuse happened decades ago.
In this article, we delve deeper into the process of filing a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse in Maryland, discussing relevant laws and examining the average settlement value of these cases.
Defining Sexual Abuse and Assault
Sexual abuse or assault, often referred to as sexual battery in civil lawsuits, involves intentional touching or contact without consent for sexual gratification, arousal, or humiliation. Section 3-307 of the Maryland Criminal Law Article establishes the criminal criteria for sexual offenses, and a key aspect of such cases is the lack of consent.
This criminal criterion sets the stage for a civil sex abuse lawsuit. In Maryland, minors under 18 are, of course, unable to legally provide consent. Any sexual contact between an adult and a minor is automatically considered sexual battery.
Rights of Sexual Abuse Victims
Victims of sexual abuse or assault have the right to press criminal charges and/or file a civil lawsuit to seek compensation, regardless of whether the abuser was criminally charged or convicted. Civil lawsuits have a lower evidentiary burden than criminal cases (preponderance of evidence vs. beyond a reasonable doubt), making it easier for victims to prove the occurrence of abuse or assault in a civil court.
Filing a Lawsuit: Time Limitations Under New Maryland Law
In Maryland, the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse depends on whether the victim was a child or an adult when the abuse occurred. For adult victims, the general 3-year statute of limitations for tort actions applies (Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101). However, for victims who were minors at the time of the abuse, Maryland’s Child Victims Act (passed in 2023) eliminates the statute of limitations entirely, allowing victims to file a lawsuit regardless of the time that has passed since the abuse.
Holding Organizations Liable for Sex Abuse
Most sexual battery incidents involve individuals who are familiar with each other, such as relatives, intimate partners, casual acquaintances, or business associates. This term also includes power dynamics, as many perpetrators of sexual battery exploit their positions of authority to commit abusive acts. Some examples, reorganized and with added information, are as follows:
- A doctor or therapist who sexually abuses patients under the pretense of medical treatment. Our firm has handled a lot of these cases which stems for the medical malpractice work that we do. Too many doctors think their position of power gives them license to abuse patients.
- An employer who proposes preferential treatment to an employee in return for sexual favors or who continually pressures a subordinate employee into sexual situations.
- A coach or teacher who “grooms” or manipulates students into engaging in sexual situations, often using their trusted position to take advantage of the student.
- Parents or guardians who exploit their own children. These are among the most horrible cases.
Factors Influencing Settlement Payouts of Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
There are several factors that can influence the settlement compensation for sexual abuse civil lawsuits in Maryland:
- How Bad Was the Abuse or Assault: Cases involving particular violence or emotionally repulsive sexual abuse or assault tend to have a higher potential settlement value because they generate strong emotional reactions from juries. Multiple acts of abuse, young victims, and physical violence will all push the value up.
- Evidence: The cases with the highest potential settlement value are often those in which the evidence of sexual abuse is clear and obvious. The consent element is often the pivot point in these cases (except for child sex abuse cases where consent is not at issue). If the case comes down to the victims word against the defendant’s regarding consent, it will have a lower value.
- Who is the Third Party Defendant: Big corporations, schools or churches with deep pockets and a motivation to protect their public image are always willing to pay more to settle a sexual abuse case.
- Your Lawyer: Some lawyers are simply better are pushing their client’s case and leveraging the maximum settlement. Choosing the right sex abuse lawyer can make a big difference.
Sexual Abuse Jury Verdicts and Settlement Payouts: Examples
We have had a $2 million verdict in a sex abuse lawsuit and many settlements. We cannot talk about the settlements because they are confidential. This is frustrating because it increases the code of silence. But we have to do what is in our client’s best interest and that often means confidential settlements. Here are some examples of verdicts and settlements in sexual abuse cases that demonstrate the wide range of potential compensation:
2023 (New York) $10,000,000: The defendant in this case, Paul Haggis, was a prominent screenwriter and director in the movie industry who was accused of forcing a 26-year-old female publicist to have sex with him. Haggis allegedly enticed the woman up to his apartment after a film premier event and then sexually assaulted her. A jury in New York awarded $10 million, which included $2.5 million in punitive damages.
2022 (California) $350,000: The plaintiff was a cashier at a restaurant in San Diego. She alleged that she was first sexually harassed and then sexually assault by a co-worker when they were both alone in the workplace. She filed her sexual assault lawsuit against the restaurant owners alleging that they were negligent in not firing the employee and allowing them to be alone together.
2022 (California) $12,000,000: The plaintiff was a medical resident at the University of Southern California medical school in a fellowship program at a hospital. The plaintiff claimed she was sexually assaulted at the hospital by a second-year fellow at the hospital who was in a supervisory position with respect to her. She sued the university and hospital for negligence and was awarded $12 million.
2022 (Florida) $10,243,000: The plaintiff, 21-year-old female, was a passenger on a Carnival Cruise ship. She was walking around on the ship intoxicated when a cruise ship employee pulled her into a closet and forcibly raped her. She sued Carnival for negligent hiring, screening, supervising, monitoring, training, and retaining. Carnival claimed that the plaintiff was too intoxicated to remember whether or not she consented to having sex with the employee.
2022 (Florida) $16,000,000: A 62-year-old woman claimed that while staying at a hotel in Miami she was attacked by a male assailant who then sexually assaulted her for 10 consecutive minutes in the hotel hallway. hotel staff and a security guard observed the attack and failed to intervene, and the assailant then took N.N. by elevator to a second location and attacked her for several more minutes. She sued both the hotel and the security company contracted to handle security at the hotel.
2022 (Colorado) $609,907: Female plaintiff worked for the defendant, a local veterinarian. When she was 15-year-old the plaintiff had trouble at home and moved in with the defendant (and his wife and daughter). The defendant sexually assault the plaintiff one night when she got drunk and she left the house. She later moved back but then left again and reported the sexual assault to the police several years later.
What to Do If You Have Experienced Sexual Abuse
The steps you take or refrain from taking as a survivor of sexual abuse can have a significant impact on your ability to obtain justice both criminally and civilly. This is so much easier for lawyers to say than to do as a victim. We get that. But while speaking up can be incredibly challenging, it truly is in your long-term interest. Here is what you should consider doing if the circumstances allow.
- Report the crime to the police. Dial 911 immediately to inform the authorities about the incident. Preserving evidence such as biological materials from the victim’s body and clothing during a police investigation can help bring the perpetrator to justice.
- Seek medical attention. Visit a hospital promptly for professional medical care. A doctor can address any physical injuries you have and perform a sexual assault forensic exam to gather evidence.
- Preserve evidence. Retain the clothes you were wearing during the assault or attack, as well as any other items that could serve as evidence in a case later on.
- Talk to someone. Get therapy. Call a sex abuse hotline. Confide in a trusted friend or family member during this challenging period. You should not go through this alone. There are people who are ready, willing, and able to help you.
- Consult a sexual abuse attorney. When you feel ready, reach out to a sexual abuse lawyer from a reputable law firm with a history for legal guidance.
- Be kind to yourself. Honestly, this is probably the most important. And understand the human tendancy to blame yourself and get your mind around just how ridiculous that is. It is not your fault.
Seeking Legal Assistance
If you are considering filing a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse, it is crucial to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the complex legal landscape. Contact our sex abuse lawyers at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation to discuss your case and explore your options.