When it comes to sexual assault cases, not only do defendants face conviction in criminal court, they may also be liable in a civil lawsuit filed by the plaintiff. A civil lawsuit is typically the only way that a sexual assault victim can recover monetary damages for the harm they received and for the future mental harm they must endure for the rest of their lives.
Criminal vs. Civil Cases
In criminal trials, the jury must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a defendant is guilty of the crime. That means if there are any doubts about the defendant's innocence, he/she cannot be convicted of the crime.
Plaintiffs in sexual assault cases must testify and relive the alleged incident in front of strangers, which can be an emotional experience. If the jury either finds the defendant “not guilty” or they cannot reach a decision (i.e. hung jury), the plaintiff may be feeling angry, betrayed, or ashamed.
Alas, the next step is to civil sexual assault lawsuit. In civil law, the burden of proof is much lower compared to criminal law, known as “preponderance of the evidence.” Simply put, the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury that the accusation is more likely than true.
Types of Civil Lawsuits
In civil law, a cause of action for sexual assault doesn't exist. Rather, the plaintiff is able to file a lawsuit for one of several “intentional torts", which is considered a wrongful act which brought harm to the victim
Common possible arguments under which to file a civil lawsuit include:
- Assault and battery
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Negligent infliction of emotional distress (for bystanders or witnesses to the act)
- False imprisonment
A jury will often award high damages due to the nefarious nature of sex assault, meaning the defendant can forced to pay a substantial amount of money. In most cases, however, if the defendant doesn't have enough money or assets, the plaintiff will not be able to recover compensation.