Few things are worse that suffering a sexual assault. Despite this, it is something that a shockingly high number of people in our country experience every single year. As a survivor, what can you do to come to terms with the experience and get your life back on track? What should you do?
One thing is sure – our society does not make coping with sexual assault easy. While the pendulum finally seems to be swinging towards trusting victims over perpetrators with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, things aren’t all roses and sunshine. People who decide to out their attackers still face ridicule. They face the possibility of retribution in their careers and regular lives. They may have to endure having the personal life dragged through the mud in public.
Knowing this, why in the world would some survivors choose to file civil sexual assault lawsuits against the perpetrators?
Good question. Below, we will offer some possible answers – and let you see how this path might be the right choice for you.
Why File a Sexual Assault Lawsuit in Florida Civil Court?
Criminal Justice Often Lacks the “Justice” Part for Survivors
In order to understand why someone might file a civil case, you first need to know how Florida handles sexual assault claims.
You’ve probably heard statistics about the incredibly low number of survivors who come forward and fight to have their attackers prosecuted. Something you probably don’t know is that, even when someone does come forward, a high number of cases end up being dropped, dismissed, or decided in favor of the alleged perpetrator. In other words, the survivor suffers through the trauma of reliving their experience during the criminal case… and the perpetrator goes free.
Why? Because the burden of proof is high in criminal cases, and sexual assault tends to be harder to prove than, say, theft. Can you imagine the defendant in a theft case arguing that the victim wanted them to steal the item in question? Or that they had agreed to it? In most situations, they would probably be laughed out of the courtroom.
Yet those types of defenses are often used – and used successfully – in sexual assault cases.
Civil cases, in contrast, have a far lower burden of proof. In order to win, a plaintiff needs only to prove that a preponderance of the evidence agrees with their accusation. What does preponderance of the evidence mean? Essentially, more than half.
So, if there is more evidence supporting the assertion that sexual abuse took place, resulting in damages, you will win your case, and the perpetrator will be held accountable. They won’t go to prison, but in many cases, it’s the surest way to get them to pay in some way for what they’ve done.
Speaking of paying…
Recovering from Sexual Assault Is Costly in All Kinds of Ways
Ask almost any survivor of a sexual attack who decides to file a civil suit and they will tell you that it’s not about the money – and they’ll mean it. If they could magically go back and simply not be attacked, they would trade any compensation they receive in a heartbeat.
That being said, living through sexual abuse and coming out on the other side a functioning human being tends to be costly. Depending on the nature of the attack, you might have a number of expenses related to it:
- Medical bills
- Transportation costs
- Lost wages due to missing work
- Therapy costs
- Pain and suffering
This list isn’t all-inclusive either.
What are all these things? Damages, which you can sue for in criminal court.
Sometimes, damages like these can add up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars – or more. Not only can this money serve to help you get back on your feet after an attack, it also serves as a form of punishment to your attacker and a way to hold them legally accountable.
If a criminal trial isn’t possible – or if they manage to escape justice in criminal court – a civil action is often the only route left.
It Provides Survivors with More Control
As already mentioned, few survivors ever come forward. What happens if you do decide to go to the police with your story?
They take your statement. They evaluate it to determine how likely it is that you’re telling the truth, including potentially looking for evidence. Based on that, they decide whether or not to proceed with your case. It is quite possible that they will ultimately decide not to prosecute because they don’t believe your case is winnable, meaning you essentially came forward for nothing.
Even if they do pursue a case, the prosecutor and the state decide how to argue it, what evidence to use, how involved you will be, and what kind of consequences your attacker gets. Imagine baring your soul to get justice and then having the prosecutor cut a deal that lets the person off with a slap on the wrist – and you have basically no say in the matter.
You work with your attorney to craft the strongest possible argument against your attacker. You are in control of settling out of court or going to trial – including the amount of compensation you are willing to accept.
Finally, you can stop at any time, whereas the only one who can drop a criminal case is the prosecutor. When someone has gone through an experience that took control away from them, getting it back can be incredibly empowering.
Is Filing a Florida Sexual Assault Claim in Civil Court Right for You?
This is one of those questions that only you can really answer.
Are you willing to come forward? What kind of justice do you want? Will you feel a sense of closure if you win financial compensation? Will the money help you to move
forward and better your life?
While you ultimately must answer these questions for yourself, that does not mean that an experienced and compassionate Florida personal injury lawyer can’t help. Talking to a knowledgeable professional can help you understand how strong your case is as well as what the process of going through a civil lawsuit will be like.
Something else that’s important to know – you don’t have to forego a criminal suit if you want to pursue a civil injury case as well. In fact, many survivors file civil sexual assault claims after the completion of the criminal case.
Want to learn more? Get in touch with our office today.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2017 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – and was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite” and as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015, 2016, and 2017.