The consequences of sexual assault are severe in Florida, with fines up to tens of thousands of dollars and possible decades-long prison sentences.
For the victims, having their attacker punished through the criminal court provides some sense of justice. Putting perpetrators behind bars helps save others from being victimized by them.
While more attention is often given to the criminal justice process, there is another legal avenue that can give the injured party a means to move forward – a civil lawsuit.
Florida victims of sexual assault have the right to sue their perpetrator in civil court, even if their attacker has not been convicted in criminal court.
Defining Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is generally any sexual touch done without consent. The spectrum of related crimes includes groping, rape, and domestic violence.
Sex-related crimes identified in Florida statutes include the following:
These crimes are committed by strangers, family members, work colleagues, coaches, teachers, clergy members, health care workers, and more. Sexual assault impacts all ages from adolescents to nursing home residents.
Florida Sexual Assault Statistics
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that there were almost 12,000 forcible sex offenses in 2018:
- Rape: 8,105
- Attempted Rape: 331
- Fondling: 3,471
Police made 2,562 arrests for forcible sex offenses in 2018. The Miami-Dade area had the most arrests with 236.
Other Parties Potentially Liable
The attacker is only one party that can be potentially liable in a sexual assault civil case. A property owner can be held responsible if they failed at their duty to provide adequate security and lighting. Supervisors can also be sued if they did not appropriately take action or discipline the offender. Government entities can be sued if the attacker was a public official or law enforcement officer.
Compensation for Sex Assault Victims
Most sexual assault lawsuits must be initiated within four years of the attack. The statute of limitations varies for victims under the age of 18.
A successful civil lawsuit covers economic and non-economic losses suffered by the victim:
- Medical Bills
- Lost Wages
- Physical Therapy
- Mental Health Therapy
- Pain and Suffering
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life
A criminal court does have the authority to award restitution, but this amount typically does not satisfy all the costs associated with the attack. Restitution also will not be offered if the defendant is not convicted.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt vs. Preponderance of the Evidence
If you have ever watched a crime drama, you know that juries are instructed that the evidence must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest evidentiary bar in the criminal justice system. Civil court is different. The burden is a lower threshold called the preponderance of the evidence.
A jury finding an attacker not guilty in a criminal case does not preclude a victim from suing the defendant in civil court. The lower evidentiary burden improves the chance of success.
Criminal and civil courts also have different goals. The goal of criminal court is to punish the criminal. Civil court is aimed at restoring the victim.
Learn more about your rights as a sexual assault survivor. Schedule a consultation with us. Reach out online or call (305) 783-3301. We proudly serve Miami and the surrounding areas.