Sex Assault & Abuse Lawsuits in New Jersey
In New Jersey, sexual assault and sexual abuse lawsuits are treated like personal injury lawsuits. The process and law are practically the same for all personal injury lawsuits. Basically, the legal claims made in a sex assault lawsuit often mirror those made in other types of injury cases. Claims of duty, breach, negligence and causation are fundamentally the same.
In addition, the burden of proof is the same in all personal injury lawsuits in New Jersey. In order to win a sex assault or abuse lawsuit, such as priest abuse or school abuse case, the plaintiff (victim) has to prove their claims by a preponderance of the evidence.
Burden of Proof in Sex Assault & Abuse Lawsuits in New Jersey – Preponderance of the Evidence
The preponderance of the evidence standard is the lowest standard or burden of proof in the American justice system. In criminal cases, the standard of proof is the beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard. If the beyond a reasonable doubt standard is like running a marathon, the preponderance of the evidence standard is like running half a marathon.
The preponderance of the evidence standard is met when the evidence supporting a claim weighs heavier than any evidence to the contrary. In civil cases, attorneys often refer to the scales of justice. To sustain the preponderance of the evidence standard, the scales have to tip ever so slightly in the plaintiff’s favor.
In an injury lawsuit in New Jersey, the judge will provide the following instruction about the preponderance of the evidence standard per Civil Jury Instruction 1.12 I:
The party with the burden of proof has the burden of proving his/her/its claim by a preponderance of the evidence. If the party fails to carry that burden, the party is not entitled to your favorable decision on that claim.
To sustain the burden, the evidence supporting the claim must weigh heavier and be more persuasive in your minds than the contrary evidence. It makes no difference if the heavier weight is small in amount. As long as the evidence supporting the claim weighs heavier in your minds, then the burden of proof has been satisfied and the party who has the burden is entitled to your favorable decision on that claim.
However, if you find that the evidence is equal in weight, or if the evidence weighs heavier in your minds against the party who has the burden, then the burden of proof has not been carried and the party with the burden is not entitled to your decision on that claim. (emphasis added)
Because the preponderance of the evidence standard is a fairly easy burden to meet, a lawsuit for sex abuse or assault can succeed even if the underlying criminal cases does not. This is something many victims do not know. They may become discouraged with the criminal process and feel as though they cannot get justice. This is absolutely not true. Civil lawsuits for sex abuse or assault often succeed.
The evidence presented in a sex assault or abuse lawsuit often varies. There are two types of evidence: testimony and physical evidence. Testimony is what a party or witness states while under oath. Physical evidence is any tangible evidence, including:
- documents, and
In a sex assault lawsuit, family members and friends often testify about the physical evidence which often includes pictures, contemporaneous journal entries, medical records, school records, employment records, etc.
Credibility of Witnesses
Lawsuits for sex assault or abuse often boil down to credibility of the parties. Physical evidence usually doesn’t exist, and given the nature of the acts, there usually aren’t any eyewitnesses. It’s often a “he said, she said” case. This is especially true in older cases, or ones that occurred years or decades ago. In these kinds of cases, corroborating evidence can help bolster a victim’s testimony.
For example, in a sex assault case against a teacher, where the acts occurred over a decade ago, there may be no physical evidence and no eyewitness testimony. The victim, who was a young child at the time, began suffering from anxiety and had extensive nightmares. The victim’s parents sought help from the victim’s pediatrician, who noted the sudden onset of anxiety and related symptoms. In addition, the victim’s performance in school took a nosedive when the abuse began. Report cards which show a sudden change from one grading period to the next, as well as the medical records can help corroborate the victim’s testimony, including the timeline of events.
In addition to corroboration by physical evidence, testimony from family members and friends can be helpful. For instance, the victim’s mother may testify that while the victim did not reveal the abuse, the victim’s personality and behavior changed for the worse in a sudden and drastic way.
New Jersey Sex Assault & Abuse Law Firm For Victims
Laffey, Bucci & Kent lawyers have handled countless sex assault and abuse lawsuits. Firm founder Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor and is passionate about victims’ legal rights. Contact our law firm for a free consultation. Our New Jersey offices are located in Atlantic City, Cherry Hill and Iselin. Additional offices are located in Pennsylvania and New York. 609.223.8900
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