Overview of Sexual Assault Lawsuits For Civil DamagesSep 8 2021
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is any sexual activity that happens without the consent of one of the people involved. It can range from a touch to forced intercourse. If you have experienced any of the following situations, you may have been a victim of sexual assault:
- Your words or actions indicated that you did not want to have or continue sexual contact, but the sexual contact continued;
- You submitted to sexual contact because someone threatened you or used force on you;
- You were not able to give consent to sexual contact. This could be because you were too young (legal age of consent is 16 except where young people are close in age) or you were drugged, impaired or have a disability; or
- Someone persuaded you to have sexual contact by using their position of authority or power over you.
WHat are my legal Options?
Nothing can undo the harm of sexual assault, however civil litigation can be an empowering and effective means by which victims of sexual abuse can have an opportunity to be heard, confront their abuser, and obtain some recognition of the harm they have suffered through financial compensation.
Civil litigation is a separate process from criminal prosecution. A criminal conviction may be pursued by crown prosecutors on behalf of a victim to protect society.
With civil lawsuits, the victim is responsible for advancing the claim.
WHat do I need to prove?
The standard for proving a civil lawsuit is lower than for obtain criminal convictions.
In criminal cases, the judge or jury must be satisfied “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty of sexual assault. In a civil case, the victim must prove their case on a “balance of probabilities”. This means the judge or jury can award damages to the victim if satisfied it is more likely than not that the defendant sexually abused the victim.
A criminal conviction can serve as strong evidence to help prove a civil case and typically proceeds prior to the civil case. However, very few sexual assaults are actually reported to the police (Statistics Canada estimates 5% from 2009-2014). Regardless of whether a criminal conviction is pursued or is successful does not change the right of a victim to seek monetary damages through a civil lawsuit.
What damages can i Seek?
Sexual assault is classified as an “intentional tort”, meaning an intentional wrongful act. The victim may sue the abuser for compensation for losses such as:
- pain, suffering, and loss of amenities of life, which are typically based on the emotional and psychological injuries;
- income lost in the past, and the predicted income to be lost in the future, either because the victim was completely unable to work or because the victim’s career path changed because of the assault;
- aggravated damages, which are intended to compensate the victim where the wrongdoing occurred in particularly humiliating or undignified circumstances;
- reimbursement of counselling and other treatment expenses incurred in the past, and likely to be incurred in the future; and
- punitive damages, which are paid to the victim as punishment imposed on the abuser.
Is there a time limit on filing a claim?
While most lawsuits are required to be filed in court within a short timeframe called the “limitation period”, this does not apply to lawsuits regarding sexual assault in BC.
It is recognized that victims of sexual assault often need time to process the abuse and so they are not expected to begin litigation immediately. Limitation periods in sexual assault claims would disregard the various psychological and emotional barriers survivors face after the abuse that may limit their ability to file claim for many years. For this reason, criminal and civil lawsuits relating to sexual assault may be brought at any time without regard to the conventional limitation periods governing other types of claims.
There are advantages to bringing your claim early if you can because the availability of evidence may decrease over time. Whenever you are ready, we are ready.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, we want to help.
We have experienced lawyers that can guide you through the process of seeking monetary damages from your abuser through a civil lawsuit. Our legal team is passionate about empowering survivors and offers free consultations on these types of claims. Please contact our office at 604.853.0774 to meet with a member of our Personal Injury group.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help please contact your local police or VictimLinkBC for information and support. For additional information, please see the sexual assault fact sheet provided by Victim Services and Crime Prevention (Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General).