Victims of sexual assaults such as rape or other non-consenting sexual contact may be able to pursue justice in the civil courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Both states specifically recognize civil legal rights of sexual assault victims against direct perpetrators (i.e., criminal perpetrators) as well as other indirect perpetrators, i.e., individuals or business entities which had a hand in allowing the assault to occur. The typical example involves a landlord who fails to fix broken locks. As a result, a criminal is able to enter the building and assaults a tenant or guest of a tenant.
4 Common Questions About Civil Lawsuits in PA & NJ for Sexual Assaults
1. Can I file both a criminal and civil case?
This is probably one of the most common initial questions victims of sexual assault have, and the answer is yes, so long as the civil lawsuit is filed within the applicable statute of limitations. Criminal cases and civil cases are completely separate from one another and in no way depend on each other. A sex assault victim can choose to file either one or both types of cases. However, there are fundamental differences in the processes and outcomes in criminal and civil cases. For instance, in a criminal case, the victim will not have the final say in how the case gets resolved, whereas in a civil case, the victim will choose how the case is resolved (trial, settlement, etc.).
2. What is the point of a civil sex assault lawsuit?
There are three main outcomes or purposes to a civil lawsuit. First, a civil lawsuit can result in financial compensation for the victim’s mental and physical injuries as well as financial losses such as medical bills or bills for psychological treatment. Second, a civil lawsuit can force people and businesses to change. For instance, policies and procedures often change in response to civil lawsuits. In a school sex abuse lawsuit involving a teacher who sexually assaults a student, the school may change its policy on how staff is trained about reporting sexual misconduct. This can have a deterrent effect and prevent future acts of sexual abuse. Third, a civil lawsuit can help the victim obtain closure and can be empowering for the victim. It allows the victim to confront the abuser (and others who allowed the abuse to occur) on the victim’s own terms. This may be therapeutic for many victims of sexual assault.
3. How can I afford a lawyer?
Civil sexual assault lawsuits are usually contingency fee cases. This means that a lawyer will handle the case and gets paid out of settlement funds or proceeds. Costs of handling the lawsuit, such as court costs, paperwork fees, costs to hire experts if needed, etc., are all paid by the lawyer who is then reimbursed for these costs from the funds at the end of the case. If the case is not successful, the victim owes nothing to the lawyer. Basically, the lawyer assumes 100% of the risk. Accordingly, lawyers commonly charge contingency fees of 33% or 40%. In New Jersey, contingency fees are set by statute.
4. How do I find the best lawyer for my case?
Finding the best lawyer for a sex assault civil case is much like finding a medical doctor. This is due to the very personal nature of the case. Do your research and look for reputation and experience. Of course, it is crucial to find a lawyer with experience in handling sex abuse and assault cases. In addition, when considering a specific lawyer, ask for references from prior victims (clients). Many victims who have obtained justice via civil lawsuits would be glad to talk to other victims about their experiences with that lawyer. In addition, finding the best lawyer means finding someone who will treat you with dignity and respect.
DISCLAIMER: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. It is crucial to speak to a qualified lawyer prior to making any decision about your case. Read full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.