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The Civil Justice System: An Overview for Victims of Child Molestation, Priest and Clergy Abuse, Sexual Assault, and Sex Abuse 

While the criminal justice system resolves only criminal cases, the civil justice systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey resolve all other types of cases. From property disputes to tort claims, the civil justice system decides the rights, liabilities, and responsibilities of people and businesses. Tort claims are claims brought by people who are hurt, physically or emotionally, by others.

Victims of child molestation, priest and clergy abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse can bring tort claims against not only the perpetrator, but any person or business who either intentionally or negligently allowed the abuse to occur.

However, sex abuse victims are commonly mistaken about their rights.  Many do not know that a criminal conviction is not necessary to bring a successful civil suit. Even if a sexual predator is never arrested, never prosecuted, or even if a sexual predator is acquitted, a sex abuse victim can still prevail in a civil lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania and New Jersey civil justice systems can accomplish what the criminal justice systems cannot – financial recovery for pain and suffering and future damages such as future lost earnings and future medical expenses.  In some cases, simply bringing the lawsuit can provide some measure of justice, by shedding light on the abuse itself.

What Happens in Civil Cases Involving Child Molestation, Priest and Clergy Abuse, Sexual Assault or Sex Abuse?

Just like in a criminal prosecution, the first step in the civil justice system process involves careful investigation. It is crucial to determine who the responsible parties are.  In many cases, the person who actually committed the crime is not the only person who bears legal responsibility for the crime and resulting injury. In many civil cases of victims of child molestation, priest abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse, Pennsylvania and New Jersey law hold that other parties may be liable, like school districts, religious institutions, residential and commercial landlords, bars, hotels, shopping centers, child care centers, restaurants, hospitals, employers, and more. Pennsylvania and New Jersey law are clear that any individual whose actions or inactions unreasonably caused or contributed to the abuse may be liable. For example, an apartment complex or school may have unreasonably failed to provide adequate security leading to an assault.

Once the investigation is complete, the next step is filing a lawsuit, which is done by filing a Complaint.  After the Complaint is filed and the defendant(s) are served with a copy, the discovery phase begins. In this phase, the parties exchange any and all information related to the case, information about potential witnesses, and any documents or things related to the case. The parties may also subpoena documents from non-parties, such as medical providers or other witnesses. Then after discovery is complete, depositions will take place. In a deposition, a party or witness testifies about their knowledge of the facts related to the case.

How are Civil Cases Resolved?

After discovery and depositions are complete, the parties will prepare their cases for trial. In the majority of cases, however, trial never happens. The main reason for this is that trial is increasingly costly, for both sides.  Most cases will settle privately, prior to trial. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, then there usually will be a trial. However, rather than going to trial, the parties may agree to resolve the case by going to a mediation or arbitration. Mediations and arbitrations are cost effective alternatives to trial and may be appropriate depending on the circumstances of the case.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of sex abuse, contact Brian Kent, an experienced sex abuse victims civil lawyer in NJ and PA. Mr. Kent handles child molestation, sexual assault, sex abuse, and priest/clergy abuse cases in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He works with attorneys nationwide and can be admitted in other states to handle matters on a case by case basis. 800.220.7600