Case Valuation in Pennsylvania & New Jersey Sex Abuse or Assault Lawsuits
In the last decade, our Pennsylvania and New Jersey sex abuse victims law practice has seen a significant increase in the number of lawsuits for sexual abuse and assault. Due to media coverage in high profile cases, victims of abuse are finding the courage to file lawsuits against perpetrators as well as other parties which allowed the abuse/assault to occur, such as schools, churches, doctors and other medical professionals.
Victims of abuse or assault aren’t usually thinking about settlement value of a lawsuit at the outset of a case. However, financial compensation tends to be the only way to resolve a case. The civil justice system in this country decides the rights and liabilities of parties in monetary terms. That’s because courts can enforce monetary judgements. Courts can’t enforce things like letters of apology or mandated counseling. For example, in a sex abuse lawsuit, a court cannot order a party to go to mandatory counseling after the case is over. So, monetary compensation is how courts resolve lawsuits.
Determining Settlement Value of a Sex Abuse or Assault Lawsuit
The value of any lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, including sexual abuse or assault lawsuits, depends on the damages, i.e., the financial losses and pain and suffering caused by the actions of the defendant(s). The most common types of claims for damages in personal injury lawsuits include:
- medical expenses,
- lost wages, if any,
- out of pocket expenses,
- pain and suffering, and
- punitive damages.
Related: Pennsylvania & New Jersey Sex Assault Lawsuits – Does the Victim Have to Testify? Victims of abuse or assault are often afraid of having to testify in court. In this post, we explain when and how victims testify in civil lawsuits.
Financial Losses (Medical Bills, Lost Wages, Etc.)
The first three in the list above, medical expenses, lost wages and out of pocket expenses, tend to be fairly straightforward. If a sexual assault results in financial losses, the victim (plaintiff) in a lawsuit has a right to be compensated for those losses, dollar for dollar.
However, there is no double dipping. Many states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey offer financial assistance to victims through state-funded programs. In addition, in any criminal case, a victim of sex abuse or assault may request restitution from a perpetrator. Victims who receive financial assistance through the state or restitution in a criminal case cannot turn around and seek the same from the perpetrator in a civil case.
For instance, a victim of a violent sexual assault sustains serious injuries that require surgery. She incurs several thousand dollars in medical bills and misses several weeks from work. The bills, lost wages and incidental costs total $15,000. She makes a claim through a state-funded victims assistance fund and receives $2,500. She also makes a claim for restitution through the criminal case and receives $500. In her civil lawsuit, she cannot make a claim for what was already paid via the victims assistance fund and restitution. Therefore, the total financial loss claim in her lawsuit is $12,000 ($15,000 less $2,500 and $500).
Pain and Suffering
Putting a value on pain and suffering is not as straightforward as determining value of the financial losses. Given the highly sensitive nature of sex abuse or sex assault lawsuits, awards for pain and suffering tend to vary widely. There’s no litmus test to determine how much a given case is worth.
There are two types of factors which affect a pain and suffering award. First, there are facts about the acts of abuse/assault. These factors affect the immediate pain and suffering:
- the extent of the abuse/assault,
- the length of the abuse/assault,
- the relationship of the abuser to the victim,
- whether the abuser threatened the victim or victim’s family members with violence, and
- whether medical treatment was necessary, including surgery.
Second, there are facts about how the abuse/assault affected the victim on a more long term level:
- the nature and extent of the victim’s mental and emotional trauma,
- whether the victim suffered any physical scarring,
- whether the victim was able to return to work/school,
- whether the victim was able to resume normal life activities,
- whether the victim became dependent on drugs or alcohol,
- whether the victim was able to maintain healthy relationships, and
- whether mental health treatment was/is necessary.
It’s important to note that pain and suffering tends to be different for everyone. This is especially true in sexual abuse or assault cases. Everyone responds to sexual abuse or assault differently. Two people who suffer similar acts of assault or abuse may respond in vastly different ways.
Visit the sex abuse victims law library for more information.
Pennsylvania & New Jersey Sex Abuse Victims Law Firm
Laffey, Bucci & Kent represents victims of assault and abuse throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For a free consultation, please call 215.399.9255 (Phila. Office) or 609.223.8900 (Atlantic City, Cherry Hill & Iselin Offices).