Sexual assault is a traumatic and devastating experience that has lasting physical, emotional and financial consequences. Many victims feel frustrated and powerless by the lack of justice and accountability in the criminal system, where perpetrators may escape conviction or receive lenient sentences. However, victims have another option to seek justice and compensation: filing a Florida civil lawsuit against their assailants.
A civil lawsuit is a legal action that allows a sexual assault victim to sue their perpetrator for monetary damages for the harm they caused. Unlike a criminal case, where the state prosecutes the perpetrator for breaking the law, a civil case is between two private parties and does not result in imprisonment. A civil lawsuit can be filed regardless of whether a criminal case also comes up, and even if the perpetrator was acquitted.
One of the advantages of a civil lawsuit is that it has a lower burden of proof than a criminal case. In a criminal case, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator committed the crime. In a civil case, the victim must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the perpetrator caused them harm. This means that it is more likely than not that the perpetrator is responsible.
Another advantage of a civil lawsuit is that it can cover a broader range of harms than a criminal case. For example, some states’ criminal definitions of sexual assault require physical harm to the victim. In a civil case, however, the victim can sue for emotional distress, pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.
In Florida, sexual assault victims have four years from the date of the assault to file a civil lawsuit against their perpetrators. However, there may be exceptions or extensions, depending on the circumstances of the case. For instance, if the victim was a minor at the time of the assault, they have seven years from their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. If the perpetrator concealed their identity or fled the state, the statute of limitations may be tolled or paused until they are discovered or return.