Florida Sexual Abuse Attorney
Sexual abuse can leave lifelong emotional scars upon its victims. Although just about everyone realizes that sexual abuse is a serious crime, not everyone knows that it is also considered a civil offense under Florida law. That means you can contact a law firmto help you seek compensationincivil courtby filing a sexual abuse caseagainst the responsible party or parties.
What is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual contactperpetrated upon one person upon another, including one spouse upon the other spouse; or even consensual sexual contact when one of the participants is below the statutory age of consent. Sexual abuse is considered a form of personal injury, regardless of whether you suffered any physical wounds in the attack — the emotional wounds you suffer are enough to entitle you to full monetary compensation.
Unwanted comments of a sexual nature, especially in the employment context, as usually characterized as sexual harassment rather than sexual abuse.
Child Sexual Abuse
Over 60,000 children are victims of sexual abuse every year in the United States. Child sexual abuse can occur even if the sexual activity is entirely consensual. Consensual sexual activity with someone under the age of 18 is known as statutory rape, and it is both a felony and a civil offense. Florida applies a “Romeo and Juliet” exception, whereby consensual sexual activity between a partner under 24 years old and a partner who is at least 16 years old is not considered statutory rape.
The Difference Between a Criminal Prosecution and a Civil Lawsuit
If someone sexually abuses you, he can be prosecuted in criminal court. That doesn’t mean you can’t file a sexual abuse lawsuit at the same time — this has been done many times. In fact, it is easier to win a sexual abuse civil claimthan it is to win criminal conviction. In a criminal prosecution, the standard of proof is “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”, which is a much higher standard than the “preponderance of evidence” standard used in a civil case.
Sources of Compensation
If you suffer sexual abuse, you might find that the perpetrator lacks the ability to pay you monetary compensation even if you win a lawsuit against him. That might not be the end of the story, however. Although most insurance companies do not pay out compensation for intentional misconduct, you might still file a claim against, for example:
- The perpetrator’s employer, if he was on duty and acting within the scope of his employment when the abuse was committed (if a nursery school teacher molests your child, for example); or
- Anl establishment you frequented that failed to provide you with adequate security to prevent the abuse (a hospital or a nursing home, for example).
An experienced sexual abuse lawyercan help you find the appropriate “deep pockets” defendant who can afford to pay you full compensation.
As a sexual abuse victim, you are entitled to monetary compensation for your emotional suffering, as well as any other losses you suffered as a result of the abuse including medical expenses and lost earnings (if you missed work due to depression caused by your abuse, for example). Although this might not sound like much, compensation for emotional damages alone can be quite high.
Punitive damages are awarded, if at all, in addition to the usual compensation that a personal injury victim receives. Although Florida courts do not often award punitive damages, sexual abuse cases are more likely than other types of personal injury cases to merit an award of punitive damages. Florida enforces an upper limit on on punitive damages that usually amounts to the greater of (i) $500,000 or (i) three times the amount of compensatory damages.
To qualify for punitive damages, both of the following circumstances must apply:
- The perpetrator must have acted intentionally. This is usually not an issue in a sexual abuse claim, since it is difficult for a perpetrator to convince a court that his sexually abusive behavior was “accidental.”
- The offender’s liability must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence” — a more difficult standard to meet than the “preponderance of evidence” standard used to prove compensatory damages, but considerably easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies to a criminal prosecution.
Under most circumstances, perpetrator’s employer cannot be held liable for punitive damages, even if it is required to pay compensatory damages due to its employee’s misconduct.
Beware the Statute of Limitations Deadline
The statute of limitations sets a deadline by which you must file a lawsuit over your claim. If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, your claim will die — you probably won’t even be able to negotiate a private settlement. In Florida, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse works like this:
- If you were sexually abused as a child, you can file a lawsuit anytime up until your 25th birthday.
- If you were a financial dependent of your abuser at the time of your abuse, you have until four years after the dependency ends to file a lawsuit.
- If you repressed memories of your abuse, you have until four years after your memory resurfaces to file a lawsuit.
- If none of the foregoing exceptions apply, the deadline is four years after the date that the offense occurred if force or the threat of force was used, and three years after the date the offense occurred otherwise
For Those Seeking Justice…Now is the Time to Act
Survivors of sexual assaultare often reluctant to even speak of their ordeal, much less take action. Sometimes, however, justice demands action. And let’s face it — you deserve fair compensation for all that you have suffered. Both the perpetrator and anyone who allowed the abuse to occur must be held responsible. An experienced Florida sex abuse attorneycan help you recover compensation.
If you have become one of the many victims of sexual abuse, or if you are a concerned family memberof someone who has undergone such an ordeal, contact the legal teamat Lorenzo Law by calling us at (305) 999-5411, completing our online form, emailing us at [email protected] or visiting our office in Coral Gables or Ft. Lauderdale. We serve clients from Miami-Dade County and Broward County, Florida.