When you think of a personal injury lawsuit, you may initially think of a case arising from a car accident or another type of accidental injury. However, not all injury cases stem from accidents. Some cases involve allegations of sexual abuse of minors—for example the numerous high-profile sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.
Recently, many elite USA gymnasts came forward and reported a widespread sexual abuse scandal involving a trainer team doctor based out of Michigan State University (MSU), Larry Nassar. Hundreds of gymnasts testified that Nassar sexual molested them under the guise of “medical treatment.” He was the primary physician for elite gymnasts competing for the USA and MSU, so many gymnasts had to visit him and suffer abuse over and over again for years.
Nassar was convicted of numerous counts of criminal sexual conduct and the court sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison.
While criminal cases punish an offender with prison time, sex offender registration, and other penalties, they do little to help the victims of sexual abuse, other than providing a sense of justice and protecting more people from harm. In these situations, victims of abuse have the right to seek additional recourse by filing personal injury claims in civil court. Such claims can seek financial recovery for physical injuries, medical treatments, mental health care, and pain and suffering of victims.
Recently, at least 332 of Nassar’s sexual assault victims filed personal injury lawsuits against Nassar and MSU. More than one victim claimed that she reported the misconduct to MSU and university officials defended Nassar’s actions as medical treatments and not sexual assault. The lawsuits claimed that MSU should have known about the abuse and failed to take the necessary steps to protect its students and patients of Nassar’s. Other claims name the USA Gymnastics (USAG) organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) as defendants, also claiming that the organizations should have known the abuse occurred and fired Nassar as the trainer for Olympic athletes and hopefuls. The victims claim that USAG and USOC failed to protect them from harm.
In May, MSU reached a settlement agreement with victims regarding claims against the university. News reports indicate that the agreement was for $500 million. 332 plaintiffs will share the settlement amount with some set aside for any future claims against the school. The claims against USAG and USOC are still in mediation. However, USAG did reach a settlement with a former gymnast regarding sexual assault by another coach, which many call the “ground zero” case that shed light on the scope of the sexual assault problem against young gymnasts.
Victims can certainly continue to file claims against Nassar and the relevant organizations. If you believe that you or your child suffered sexual abuse by Larry Nassar or anyone else, seek skilled legal assistance as soon as possible.
An Overview of Sexual Assault Civil Claims
In addition to filing a lawsuit against the abuser, an attorney can also identify whether any other parties may face liability for the abuse, like MSU or USAG in the case of Nassar. In these cases, claims generally cite negligence as the cause of action due to an organization’s failure to protect the victims. These cases can be complicated and petitions must be clear regarding the right causes of action against the right defendants.
Consider all of the possibly liable parties in sexual assault claims. While some people do file claims solely against an abuser, the abuser may not have significant wealth to compensate victims for what they deserve. In addition, abusers may be in prison and unable to ever pay a judgment. Companies and organizations, on the other hand, should have substantial insurance policies and assets, making it more possible for victims to receive the full amount they deserve for suffering such egregious harm. And if they knew, or should have known, about the abuse or assault and failed to take appropriate action, they can face significant liability.
A criminal conviction can prove the sexual assault occurred. However, even if no prosecution or conviction took place, you still may attempt to hold an abuser liable in civil court. The burden of proof is lower in civil cases than in criminal cases, which makes it possible for victims to obtain compensation even without a criminal sexual assault conviction.
Victims must also prove the extent of the damages they deserve. Damages include, but are not limited to:
- Expenses for psychological counseling and medical treatment,
- Physical and psychological pain and suffering, injury and distress,
- Loss of normal enjoyment of life.
While such compensation can never turn back time and erase the extensive harm suffered by sexual abuse victims, it can give victims a sense of closure and justice, and provide greater financial stability.
Many victims of sex abuse do not fully understand the scope of their legal rights, especially when they were abused as minors years ago. These cases can require a thorough evaluation by an experienced personal injury lawyer. While the process of facing the details of your abuse can prove trying, it is often worth it to protect your rights, hold all negligent parties and abusers fully accountable for their actions, and protect others from having to suffer the same abuse.
Contact Our Chicago Injury Lawyers for Assistance Today
Sexual abuse is extremely traumatizing for victims and their families. At the Chicago law firm of Abels & Annes, P.C., we know this is a painful subject to address, however, victims should exercise their rights to justice and compensation. Our injury attorneys handle all cases with the necessary compassionate and sensitivity while aggressively fighting for your rights. We believe that sexual abusers should always be held accountable and we are ready to tackle these difficult claims. If you would like to discuss your legal options, please call (312) 924-7575 or contact us online for a free, completely confidential consultation.