Sexual abuse is a crime in Illinois as it is anywhere in the United States. The criminal justice system serves to punish the criminal. Sometimes, that means incarceration, and sometimes the criminal could be ordered to pay restitution, but that does not amount to much. Fortunately, the victim does not have to rely on restitution. When the circumstances allow it, the victim can file a lawsuit and be compensated monetarily for the harm they suffered.
At Serpico, Petrosino, DiPiero & O'Shea, Ltd., we handle these types of very sensitive cases. Contact us today at (312) 207-0000 to schedule a free initial consultation. We will discuss your case and advise on any possible legal action.
Understanding Sexual Abuse as a Personal Injury
Sexual abuse or sexual assault involves non-consensual or forced sexual advances – the exact definition depends on state law. Most people when they think of sexual abuse think of it as a crime rather than a civil matter. Many times, though, a victim can sue the abuser and even responsible third parties for the crime and obtain a settlement or award for the damages they suffered.
For a personal injury claim based on sexual abuse to be successful, it must establish the following:
- Duty of care. This may seem odd, but each person owes a duty of care to another person not to harm them and not to commit criminal acts toward them. In sexual abuse cases, there may be a third party that owes an additional duty of care.
- Sexual abuse or sexual assault. There must be an act of sexual abuse by a person or a failure to prevent such abuse – in either case, there is a breach of the duty of care.
- Damages. The victim must sustain damages or harm as a result of the abuse.
- Causal link. There must be a causal connection between the intentional or negligent acts and the damage or harm.
To move forward with a personal injury claim based on sexual abuse, there is a need to make sure the defendant(s) has resources to pay the settlement of jury award. If they do not, it raises the question of taking on such a sensitive matter and risking traumatizing the victim all over again. Many sexual abusers will not have financial sources to pay for a settlement, and that's why it is important that a third party also be held liable for the wrongdoing.
Liability in Personal Injury Claims for Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse commonly results from an individual's actions, and as such, the abuser is the liable party – that's straightforward. In addition, a company or organization can also be liable in a personal injury claim – this type of defendant is not always straightforward. There are many factors that must be considered when determining all potential liable parties.
If an abuser holds a position of authority within an organization, such as a supervisor or religious leader, they might use their influential position to take advantage of an individual. A personal injury claim often depends on the procedures and policies put in place to prevent sexual abuse when the abuser holds power within an organization or company.
For example, a failure to perform proper background checks on job applicants could be negligent behavior. If the procedures are not adequate or not followed, the organization or company – in addition to the sexual abuser – could be held liable.
Also, many states create institutional liability via statute. When a church, school, or another organization involves the care or oversight of children, statutes may outline specific legal obligations to protect and prevent harm of children. Many institutions and organizations also carry liability coverage.
Proving Sexual Abuse
A sexual abuse personal injury claim requires the injured party to meet the burden of proof to establish liability. Criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest bar for proving a case, and that's why many people are found not guilty even if they might be. In civil cases, however, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower standard and simply means that the defendant more likely than not abused the victim.
Evidence can come in many forms and from many places, but it is a necessary part of proving a case. If the abuser was charged, the evidence from the criminal process can be used, and that's true regardless of whether or not the abuser was found guilty.
A physical examination by a healthcare provider and subsequent treatment and care could provide evidence of sexual abuse when there are physical injuries. Additionally, evidence of mental health counseling or therapy could provide proof of sexual abuse and the damages sustained.
Eyewitness statements could also be a significant form of evidence in proving sexual abuse and the resulting damages. To hold an organization or company liable, an injured party must provide evidence showing a failure to uphold the relevant standards of care. This might include evidence of a failure to follow policies or procedures in hiring, training, or supervising an employee or member.
Examples of Sex Abuse Personal Injury Claims
There have been many sex abuse cases in the news, and many of them have let to significant settlements and jury awards. Some civil actions were against famous people and others were/are against well-known organizations.
Famous examples of sex abuse personal injury claims include:
- R. Kelly, singer
- Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News
- Harvey Weinstein, American film producer
- Bill Cosby, comedian and actor
- Larry Nassar, Michigan State University
- Jerry Sandusky, Former Penn State University Assistant Coach
In many of the above examples, third parties settled. For example, Penn State entered into a settlement with victims of Jerry Sandusky.
What to Do if You Have Are a Victim of Sex Abuse?
If you are a victim of sex abuse, you should take a few steps to safeguard your well-being.
- Seek medical help. Medical help includes both physical help (for example, obtain a screening by a doctor for any physical injury) and mental help (for example, speak to a therapist or another person who can help you mentally and emotionally).
- Preserve any evidence. If you have clothes, letters, text messages, photographs, videos, or anything that may indicate or help with a sex abuse investigation, you should keep it.
- Make notes. Try to recall anything you can, including any potential witnesses. Take notes, even if a memory or thought seems insignificant, make note of it. Sex abuse is highly traumatic, and so it can be hard to remember everything.
After the abuser has been taken in and you feel safe, you or a loved one may want to reach out to an attorney. Suing for sexual abuse can be a traumatic experience – it is a decision you must make after consulting loved ones and a legal professional.
How a Sexual Abuse Attorney Can Help You
A sexual abuse case often becomes stressful and challenging, especially when an injured person is trying to recover from the harm caused by the abuse. This type of case also differs significantly from other personal injury cases, which the sexual abuse attorneys at Serpico, Petrosino, DiPiero & O'Shea, Ltd. understand.
For instance, we can help argue for an extension of the state statute of limitations when sexual abuse occurred several years earlier in the injured person's life. Additionally, we know experts who can act as key witnesses for the sexual abuse claim and damages.
Contact a Sexual Abuse Injury Lawyer in Illinois Today
Victims of sex abuse can experience seriously physical, emotional, and mental harm. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating. So, a sexual abuse personal injury claim in Illinois can help a victim feel empowered. It helps them get the compensation they need to try to move forward with their lives and get the care they need to heal.
At Serpico, Petrosino, DiPiero & O'Shea, Ltd., we will work to hold all parties responsible for their actions. Call us today at (312) 207-0000 or fill out our online form to schedule a free initial consultation. We will answer your questions and advise you on your best legal options.