Florida has two sets of legal justice systems: Criminal and civil. The sole purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish the offender. Prosecutors represent the government in pursuing charges. In criminal sexual assault cases, the survivor is a witness. In the civil justice system, the survivor is the driving force, with the primary goal of compensation to the victim for physical harm, emotional damages and other adverse impacts. In some cases, survivors can compel third parties (schools, hospitals, sports programs, etc.) to compensate them for any negligence that created an opportunity for the assault to occur. Civil actions can also result in third parties being ordered to to take certain actions to prevent future assaults.
As South Florida sexual assault attorneys, we represent survivors as they work their way through the civil justice system. We can also help protect their interests if there is a pending criminal case. We do believe that if someone else’s criminal or negligent actions caused you physical injury, pain and suffering and mental anguish, they should be accountable for it.
We fully recognize that no amount of money is going to erase the awful realities of what happened. But damages can help to offset the cost of things like medical bills, trauma counseling and the wages you have lost while trying to piece your life back together. It’s also a measure of justice for the loss of intangible things, such as your mental health and the damage to your personal relationships.
The decision to move forward with civil litigation is a substantial one, and shouldn’t be made lightly. It’s very important that you review the strength of your claim, the potential emotional impact and the best and worst case outcomes.
Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Sue for Sexual Assault
We believe that all survivors deserve justice. However, not all cases may be worth pursuing from a practical standpoint.
For example, if the defendant in the case is the perpetrator and the goal is financial compensation but the defendant has no money, it may not make financial sense to pursue a case. In a fair number of cases, though, third parties may be held liable for their negligence. These are entities or individuals who maybe turned a blind eye to the situation, enabled the offender (perhaps by hiring them despite a violent criminal record) or created some type of hazardous environment when they had a legal responsibility to protect the victim.
Potential third-party defendants in Florida sexual assault cases may include:
- Religious institutions
- Internet platform
- Shopping center
That’s not an exhaustive list, but covers some of the more common.
- Filing a sexual assault lawsuit may make sense if you:
- Were physically harmed by the defendant’s behavior (and sexual assault is a form of physical harm, even if you weren’t hospitalized).
- Suffered significant losses (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) as a result of what happened.
- Are motivated to right the wrong.
- Are determined to see this through.
- Have someone with money worth suing. This sounds callous, but the bottom line is, suing someone in civil court may not make a great deal of sense unless the defendant has money. But here again, we advise prospective clients not to make that decision on their own just because their attacker doesn’t have any assets. Sexual assault cases against third parties are actually more common than claims directly against the offender, and many businesses, religious institutions and government agencies have insurance to cover just this sort of thing.
- Have support. Litigation is stressful. If you don’t have a strong support system in place, we suggest receiving therapy during the legal process so you’re better able to process some of the inherent challenges.
It’s important to point out that in some cases, it may not even be necessary to file a lawsuit to obtain damages. There is often a fair amount of negotiation that takes place prior to litigation, and we may be able to settle the case fairly in your favor without having to take it to the courts.
We recommend arranging a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys before making any major decisions one way or the other. We are staunchly committed to advocating for the rights of sexual assault survivors in court, and will do everything in our power to fight for the best possible outcome.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
APPLYING COMMERCIAL LITIGATION PRINCIPLES TO THE EVALUATION OF CIVIL SEXUAL ABUSE CLAIMS, August 2014, Florida Bar Association
More Blog Entries:
How Much Time Do I Have to File My South Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit? Feb. 27, 2021, Florida Sexual Assault Civil Attorney Blog