Victims of sex abuse are often very concerned about filing a civil lawsuit. Oftentimes, they want to know how long the case will last and what the ultimate outcome will be. Below are two of the most common questions victims of sex abuse have about filing and resolving civil sex abuse/assault cases in Pennsylvania.
1. How long will the case take to resolve?
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict how long a given case will take to resolve. There are too many variables and factors which depend on the specific facts of a given case, such as:
- statute of limitations issues,
- liability issues,
- complex legal issues,
- number of defendants,
- evidentiary issues, and
- personal needs of the victim.
However, as a general rule, civil sex abuse cases take anywhere between 1 to 3 years to resolve from the time they are filed. Much of the time is spent in litigation, or investigating each side’s factual and legal claims. This includes locating witnesses, uncovering evidence, deposing parties and witnesses, etc. In a large scale sex abuse case such as one involving priest sex abuse from years ago, there may be dozens of potential witnesses, who must be tracked down and interviewed.
In addition, the venue, or where the court action is filed can make a difference in how long the case takes to resolve. Some courts in specific counties in Pennsylvania are notoriously slow to resolve cases, and some are faster than others. For instance, civil sex abuse cases filed in Philadelphia County may be assigned to specially designated tracks or schedules: expedited, standard or complex. These tracks are designed to keep the case moving.
The expedited track is usually reserved for simpler cases, like auto accident cases. A civil sex abuse case with two parties (one plaintiff and one defendant) may be placed on the expedited track. Depending on initial legal issues, like the statute of limitations and other issues like number of parties and number of witnesses, civil sex abuse cases in Philadelphia may be placed on the standard or complex tracks. The standard track usually requires all discovery to be completed a year from the filing of the complaint (the document which starts the lawsuit). Cases placed on the complex track may take up to 2 years for discovery.
2. What will the ultimate outcome be?
In a civil sex abuse case filed in Pennsylvania, the most likely outcome will be a settlement or other non-trial resolution like an arbitration or mediation. Increasingly, courts which are facing budget cuts are tightening trial dockets; this means that courts prefer the parties to resolve their cases short of trials, which are costly and time-consuming. Therefore, the parties in civil lawsuits, like a civil sex abuse lawsuit, may be encouraged to seek an arbitration or mediation. These are less formal hearings or meetings in front of an individual agreed to by the parties, usually a lawyer with experience in the area, or a former judge. If an arbitration or mediation occurs, the case is likely to be resolved. If not, the court will order a trial.
Whether by voluntary settlement (agreement of the parties), arbitration/mediation or trial, the end result of a civil sex abuse case will probably be a financial award to the victim.
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