Summary – Civil Sex Abuse & Assault Lawsuits in New Jersey
Allegations in sex abuse or assault lawsuits are often egregious and morally reprehensible. However, the civil justice system in New Jersey treats all civil actions the same. Therefore, civil sex abuse or assault lawsuits are handled much like any other tort or injury cases, such as a wrongful death action or a defective product injury case.
The plaintiff files a complaint against the perpetrator. The complaint specifies the conduct, the damages and remedy being sought. Oftentimes, in civil sex abuse and assault lawsuits in NJ, parties other than the direct, criminal perpetrator will be named as defendants. For instance, in a case where sex abuse occurs in an institutional setting, such as a church or school, the institution may be named as a party. The basis of liability of the institution is the failure to take appropriate action to prevent or stop the abuse. In many cases, churches and schools take steps to hide the abuser or otherwise prevent the victim from filing reports. This type of conduct often results in liability in New Jersey.
The Standard of Proof
In a civil lawsuit, the injured plaintiff (survivor of sex abuse/assault) bears the burden of proving all the claims in their case against the defendant. This means proving what occurred, how it affected the plaintiff, etc. Whatever is alleged in the complaint has to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
The preponderance of the evidence standard is the lowest standard used in the court system. It’s informally known as the 51% standard, i.e., based on the evidence, is a given claim more likely true than not true? Jurors in civil cases may be asked to imagine a scale. They must weigh the evidence on that scale. If all the evidence supporting a claim weighs heavier than the evidence refuting it, then the claim has been proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
This standard is lower than the clear and convincing evidence standard which is often employed in special types of cases such as family law matters or when a party is requesting an injunction (i.e., preventing a party from taking action). In addition, the preponderance of the evidence standard is also lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard which is employed in criminal cases. In fact, the beyond a reasonable doubt standard is the highest standard of proof under the justice system in New Jersey.
Proof & Evidence in Civil Sex Abuse/Assault Lawsuits in New Jersey
In a civil sex abuse/assault lawsuit in New Jersey, the evidence necessary to meet the preponderance of the evidence standard will depend on the type of case and nature of the claims. Evidence in these cases often includes:
- testimony of parties and witnesses,
- records (medical, school, psychological treatment), and
Also, in cases where a church or school is a party, manuals detailing relevant policies and procedures would likely be admitted as evidence.
It’s important to note that civil sex abuse/assault lawsuits often depend largely on credibility or believability of the parties and witnesses, if any. In these cases, juries will assess the credibility of a witness very carefully. Therefore, it is crucial for the plaintiff to be well prepared.
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