Often when Palm Beach sexual abuse lawyers talk about sexual assault cases in the legal system, people automatically think we’re discussing a criminal matter. It’s true that sexual assault and battery are criminal acts, and the criminal justice system metes out punishment to those proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, that’s not the only path to justice. Civil litigation is a means for the survivor to take the reigns and recover financial damages – from the perpetrator themselves as well as third parties whose negligence made the attack(s) possible in a civil Florida sexual assault lawsuit settlement or trial.
Three basic types of compensation one can pursue in a Florida civil case:
Both economic and non-economic damages are classified together as “compensatory damages.” The intention is to compensate the plaintiff/sexual assault survivor for specific losses. Economic damages are for those things with a clearly identifiable price tag – medical bills, lost wages, etc. Non-economic damages are for things that don’t have a precise dollar figure – pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of life enjoyment, loss of consortium/companionship, etc.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to punish the defendant. As noted in F.S. 768.72, punitive damages are still paid to the victim, but judges will only allow plaintiffs to pursue such damages in cases where the defendant engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence. This standard may be met in Florida sexual assault lawsuits filed directly against the perpetrator, but it’s a tougher case to make for third-party defendants – and that’s who most of these cases are against. That’s because insurance generally doesn’t provide coverage for crimes/intentional misconduct the way they do for negligence. So suing the attacker directly means you’re going after their personal assets – an endeavor that can be fruitless unless the defendant is personally wealthy.
What is the Average Florida Sexual Assault Lawsuit Settlement Amount?
Many civil sexual assault lawsuits in Florida are resolved through private negotiations between the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s). Because those payout amounts aren’t usually made public, there’s no easy way to provide an average for settlement amounts. They can range anywhere from thousands of dollars to tens of millions. Some of the bigger cases involving multiple plaintiffs and large organization defendants have even resulted in settlements in the hundreds of millions.
Jury verdicts favoring the plaintiff tend to be a bit higher than settlement amounts (which is part of the incentive for defendants to settle). A few examples over the years:
- A jury awarded $5.25 million to a student by his Miami charter school after he, at age 7, was bullied and raped by an older student, 11, both at the school and while in a school transport van.
- Jurors awarded $47 million paid to a massage therapy client by a former massage therapist and his employer after she was sexually battered during a session. He was later convicted of sexual battery and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the argument against his employer was he should never have been hired. He’d been previously accused of sexually assaulting another client, but the company never conducted a background check.
- Jurors awarded $9 million to five students who were raped by a physical education teacher at a Miami-Dade middle school. The teacher was later convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison.
- A South Florida jury reached a $100 million verdict against a retired priest accused of sexually assaulting dozens of children over the course of several years. Attorneys for the victims said it was unlikely that amount would ever be collected, as the case was filed directly against the perpetrator as opposed to the church, but the hope was that the dollar figure sent a strong message about how egregious jurors view the conduct of child predators – which could in turn make it easier for plaintiffs in future cases to negotiate a successful Florida sexual assault lawsuit settlement without having to take the case to trial.
If you have been the victim of sexual assault in South Florida and want to learn more about the damages you can pursue and your legal options in the civil justice system, we offer free initial consultations.
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.
Florida jury awards $100M in priest abuse case, Nov. 11, 2011, Associated Press
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Is Florida Doctor Sexual Assault Medical Malpractice? Sept. 10, 2023, Palm Beach Sexual Abuse Attorney Blog