Florida Sexual Abuse Lawyers
Over 300,000 people are victimized by sexual abuse in the United States every year, including at least 63,000 children. Sexual abuse is a serious crime because of the lasting emotional scars it can leave. In Florida, sexual abuse is also a civil offense, which means that if you are victimized by sexual abuse you are entitled to full financial compensation for all of your losses, including and especially your emotional suffering.
Finding the Right Defendant
One of the main difficulties faced by sexual assault victims is finding the right person to sue. There are two reasons for this difficulty:
- Sexual abuse damages can be immense, and offenders rarely possess the financial resources to pay large judgments; and
- Insurance companies generally don’t cover intentional misconduct such as sexual abuse.
This state of affairs can leave the victim in a situation where he cannot collect damages even if he wins the case. A skilled Florida sexual abuse lawyer, however, is adept at finding defendants who are able to pay a substantial damages award. Appropriate defendants usually fall into one of two categories:
- The company that employed the offender, if the offender was operating within the scope of his duties at the time of the assault. An employer can be held liable for the intentional misconduct of its employee even if the employer itself was not in any way at fault.
- An entity with a duty of care towards the victim such as a hospital, nursing home or the owner of a parking structure. Suppose, for example, that the customer of a parking structure is sexually assaulted by a trespasser in a dark corner of the structure because the owner failed to post a security guard at the entrance. In this case the victim might claim that the owner of the parking structure was negligent and therefore liable.
The Statute of Limitations
Many victims were sexually abused in secret, perhaps as children, and they may carry around the trauma of sexual abuse for years before they finally find the courage to speak out about it. A potential problem is that the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit may have already expired by the time the victim finally comes forward. Florida has modified its statute of limitations in an effort to provide justice to such people.
It works like this:
- If you were sexually abused as a child, you have until your 25th birthday to file a lawsuit.
- If you were a dependant of your abuser, you have four years after you cease being a dependant to file a lawsuit, no matter how old you are; and
- If you failed to file a lawsuit promptly because you repressed memories of the abuse, you have until four years after the memories resurface to file a lawsuit, no matter how old you are.
Compensatory Damages in Florida Sexual Abuse Cases
Sexual abuse claims can give rise to immense damages awards — in January 2018, for example, our firm represented a Florida client who was awarded compensatory damages of over $70,000,000 against a yacht owner who failed to her against a sexual assault by a coworker. Although this award was far greater than average, it does illustrate that courts tend to take sexual assault claims very, very seriously.
In a sexual assault case, you can potentially win compensatory damages for:
- Lost wages (past and future)
- Medical expenses (past and future)
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Sexually-transmitted disease
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Therapy and psychological counseling expenses
- Other compensatory damages
Punitive Damages in Florida Sexual Abuse Cases
Punitive damages are awarded, if at all, in addition to compensatory damages, and they are only awarded in about two percent of civil lawsuits. Florida has placed a cap on punitive damages that in most cases equals either $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. To qualify for punitive damages:
- The offender’s act must be intentional (which is the case in almost all sexual abuse claims); and
- The offender’s culpability must be shown by “clear and convincing evidence”, which is a more difficult standard to meet than the standard necessary to prove your entitlement to compensatory damages.
In most cases, you cannot force the offender’s employer to pay punitive damages even if the employer is held liable for compensatory damages.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the relationship between a criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse?
You can file a sexual abuse lawsuit against a defendant without waiting for a criminal prosecution to commence, and you can win your claim even if a criminal prosecution is never commenced. In fact, it is possible to win a sexual abuse lawsuit even if the offender is acquitted of the offense in criminal court. If the offender pleads not guilty in criminal court and is convicted nevertheless, Florida law will bar him from claiming innocence of the offense in your civil lawsuit against him.
Is intoxication relevant to a sexual assault lawsuit?
It can be under certain circumstances. Although intoxication is never an excuse for committing a sexual offense, the defendant might argue that he was too intoxicated to have committed the offense in the first place. If you were the one who was intoxicated, you could argue that you couldn’t have consented to sexual activity because you were too intoxicated to have done so.
Do I have to prove my claim “beyond a reasonable doubt”?
No, that is the standard for a criminal prosecution. For compensatory damages, you must prove your case by a “preponderance of evidence”, which is something like 51% certainty. You must prove entitlement to punitive damages by “clear and convincing evidence”, which is a higher standard than “preponderance of evidence” (but lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt”).
What is the age of consent in Florida?
18 years old. If you are under 18, you cannot legally consent to sex regardless of whether you are willing to or not. There is a “close in age” exception for 16- and 17-year olds who engaged in sexual activity with anyone up to the age of 23 (this is known in some quarters as the “Romeo and Juliet exception”).
It’s Time to Start Fighting Back
At Edwards Pottinger, our attorneys have won millions upon millions of dollars in compensation for sexual abuse victims. If you have been victimized by sexual abuse in Florida, call us at at (800) 400-1098 or fill out our online contact form for a free consultation. If we don’t win your case, our total legal bill will be zero.