Maryland Sexual Abuse Victim Lawsuits
After a sexual assault, it is hard for survivors to know what to do. If you are in danger or need medical attention, call 911. If you are overwhelmed and need help figuring out what to do next, a sexual assault hotline like the one listed above can provide you with information and refer you to local resources.
Miller & Zois fights for victims in Maryland to hold these criminals and the organizations who supported them accountable. They key to obtaining money damages is often finding a organization, like a church or the Boy Scouts, who negligently (or worse) assisted in the abuse and cover-up. Victims in these cases have the opportunity to fight to get the maximum compensation Maryland law allows.
Our sexual abuse attorney fight for victims in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. If you think you may have a claim, you want to contact a lawyer immediately because there are often issues in these cases with the statute of limitations.
You can call us at 800-553-8082 for a confidential discussion of your case and your options. You can also complete this simple online form. If you are hesitant and scared to bring a claim, we understand. We really do. If this the boat you are in, the online form is sometimes a good place to start to gain comfort.Maryland Sexual Abuse Cases
Victims can suffer profound emotional, psychological, and physical impacts from the experience of sexual assault. The worst offenders of sexual assault are guilty of committing felonies, the most serious crime charge.
However, only a small percentage of sexual assaults actually result in convictions. For example, only 13 out of every 1,000 instances of rape are even referred to a prosecutor. Sometimes, law enforcement may be unable to find the perpetrator or lack the evidence needed to prove guilt. Convictions are also low because the majority of sexual assaults go unreported.
Whether or not to report is always the survivors' decision. However, having a personal relationship with the offender, fear of retaliation, distrust of the police, and concern that they will be further victimized or not taken seriously are among the reasons survivors do not report sex crimes.
Additionally, some survivors of assault prefer to seek the assistance of a crisis center rather than moving forward with the legal system. Crisis centers like these provide counseling, psychological, and legal referrals, often for free.
Another option available to survivors of sexual assault is filing a civil lawsuit. Separate from the criminal system, civil law helps survivors of assault receive financial compensation. Sexual assault is costly to society and to survivors. Therapy fees and lost time from work during the healing period are examples of costs that can be recovered in a lawsuit.
A civil lawsuit may be especially rewarding for those whose criminal case did not result in a conviction or who experienced significant economic and other hardships as a result of sexual assault. You do not need to win your criminal trial or press criminal charges in order to file a civil suit.Criminal Versus Civil Law
Criminal law deals with acts that are understood as disruptive to society. The state or federal government brings these cases to court. Criminal charges can be broken down by level of severity into felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Felonies and misdemeanors may result in jail time, while infractions only result in fines.
Civil law deals with acts that in some way injure an individual or another private party, such as a business. Instead of being initiated by the government, these cases are filed by lawyers on behalf of individuals or private parties. Civil cases cannot result in jail time, but they can result in a monetary award. The point of a civil case is to recover funds lost due to the act of another.
Survivors of sexual assault have the option to pursue both criminal and civil cases. The obvious difference between the two is that criminal cases can result in jail time for perpetrators while civil cases can result in monetary compensation paid to the survivor.
Another important difference is that in civil cases, a victim is a party, not just a witness. This means that they have more control over how the case proceeds, including stopping the case from continuing.
Additionally, criminal cases have to prove a defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Civil cases, on the other hand, have to prove a defendant's liability based on "preponderance of the evidence." Whereas "beyond a reasonable doubt" means that there can be no reason to believe that something did not happen, "preponderance of the evidence" means only that it is 50% or more likely that something happened. Thus, "preponderance of evidence" is often easier to prove.Maryland Sexual Assault Laws
What exactly is sexual assault? How is it different from sexual harassment or sexual misconduct? Defining these terms is somewhat difficult since they are not necessarily legal terms and their meanings vary among members of the public. Additionally, the specifics of sexual assault laws and the language used to describe it depends on the state.
Here in Maryland, Subtitle 3 of Title 3 in the code of criminal law describes sexual crimes. It includes rape, other unwanted sexual contact, sexual conduct with a child, inmate, or vulnerable adult, sexual solicitation or trafficking of minors, sexual blackmail, revenge porn, incest, stalking, and sexual harassment.
Title 5 describes sexual offense in relationship with illegal drugs. Finally, Title 11 describes "indecency and obscenity," and includes laws about pornography, indecent exposure, and prostitution.
In brief, the law punishes a sweeping range of crimes related to sexual misconduct. You can read the law as it pertains to each offense word for word online.
Returning to the question of how sexual assault is defined, Maryland law provides an answer. In Subtitle 9 of Title 11, sexual assault is defined as any offense described in the first 15 articles of Subtitle 3 of Title 3. They are as follows:
Rape in the first degree: Engaging in vaginal intercourse or a sexual act (oral intercourse, anal intercourse, or penetration with any body part or object) with another by force or the threat of force without the consent of the other while (1) using or displaying a weapon or object the other believes to be a weapon, (2) strangling or seriously injuring the other, (3) being aided or abetted by another person, (4) committing burglary, or (5) threatening or kidnapping the other or someone the other knows.
Rape in the second degree: Engaging in vaginal intercourse or a sexual act with another by force or the threat of force (1) without the consent of the other, (2) with someone who is a substantially cognitively impaired individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual, or (3) with someone who is under 14 years of age when the person performing the act is at least 4 years older.
Sexual offense in the third degree: Engaging in sexual contact (touching intimate areas for sexual arousal or abuse) with another without the consent of the other while (1) using or displaying a weapon or object the other believes to be a weapon, (2) strangling or seriously injuring the other, (3) being aided or abetted by another person, (4) committing burglary, or (5) threatening or kidnapping the other or someone the other knows.
Sexual offense in the fourth degree: (1) Engaging in sexual contact with another without the consent of the other, (2) engaging in a sexual act or vaginal intercourse with someone who is 14 or 15 and the person performing the act is at least 4 years older, or (3) a person of authority (a person older than 21 employed by a school) engaging in sexual contact, a sexual act or vaginal intercourse with a minor who is a student at the school.
Attempted rape in the first degree: Attempting to commit rape in the first degree, as described above.
Attempted rape in the second degree: Attempting to commit rape in the second degree, as described above.
Sexual conduct between a correctional or juvenile justice employee and inmate or confined child: An employee of a correctional or juvenile justice facility, such as a law enforcement officer, sheriff, warden, or service provider, engaging in sexual contact, a sexual act, or vaginal intercourse with an inmate, confined child, or person in custody.
Continuing course of conduct with child: Over a period of 90 days or more, engaging in three or more acts violating the above offenses with someone under the age of 14.
The law also stipulates how sexual assault and other sexual misconduct crimes are dealt with by the government and legal system. The particulars of the law can have positive or negative impacts on survivors of sexual assault, from their health to their perception that they have received the justice they deserve.
Maryland and federal law is still in the process of modernizing. For example, marriage as a defense against sex crime prosecution and the crime of sodomy are still in the process of being repealed in our state. Conversely, a new article was added in 2017 stating that "evidence of physical resistance by a victim is not required to prove that a sexual crime was committed."
This new law responded to the fact that many victims react to an attack not by running or fighting but by freezing up. Freezing is a neurobiological response to danger, and it's also the case that many victims fear that fighting back will only result in further injury or humiliation.
Subtitle 9 of Title 11 in Maryland also outlines what services must be provided to survivors of sexual assault. It mandates the establishment of sexual assault crisis programs, grants to nonprofit organizations, and a state coalition.Who Are Typical Plaintiffs and Defendants in Sexual Assault Lawsuits?
In a sexual assault lawsuit, the victim, known as the plaintiff, attempts to recover compensation for damages they incurred for which the defendant or defendants are responsible. The perpetrator of the assault is usually a defendant. Other possible defendants include people who were somehow responsible for the situation or environment that permitted the assault to happen.
Anybody can be a victim of sexual assault. It is true that most victims of sexual assault are women and most perpetrators of sexual assault are men. That does not mean that men are never sexually assaulted or that women never commit sexual assault. Unfortunately, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly are sometimes the victims of sexual assault as well.
As for the identity of the offenders, the majority of sexual assault cases do not involve a stranger in a dark alley. The perpetrator is most often an acquaintance or romantic partner of the victim. This means that the victim probably knows the person who assaulted them.
Many civil cases involve circumstances in which a power dynamic exists between the aggressor and the victim. A boyfriend, doctor, teacher, or prison guard may manipulate their victims into thinking that what they are doing is standard procedure or that the victim has no power to speak out.
Also, many cases involve multiple defendants, the first being the assaulter and the others being larger entities. For example, a nursing home can be sued it fails to act on suspicions of foul play or if the building has inadequate security features. An apartment complex could be liable for not having working locks. Schools, churches, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, hospitals, doctor, hotels, and companies like Uber and Lyft are a few examples of defendants in sexual assault lawsuits.What Damages Are Recovered in a Sexual Assault Lawsuit?
In a lawsuit, damages are awarded to a plaintiff in order to compensate for losses and pain caused by another. Acts worthy of compensation are called torts, wrongful behaviors that cause injury and for which someone can be held liable. Victims commonly seek compensation for torts such as:
- Assault and Battery: Assault is the threat and attempt to inflict bodily harm, and battery is the physical contact and harm itself
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Causing a highly negative emotional reaction, such as the terror of rape or PTSD resulting from an assault
- False Imprisonment: Intentionally restraining another by physical force or the threat of physical force
- Medical Malpractice: Negligence, misconduct, lack of ordinary skill, or breach of duty in the performance of medical service resulting in injury or loss, relevant when a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional sexually assaults a patient (sample sex abuse lawsuit in medical malpractice context)
- Failure to Obtain Informed Consent: Failing to explain and disclose the risks of a medical procedure, applies when a medical professional attempts to pass off sexual assault as part of a medical exam
- Negligent Hiring, Supervision, Credentialing, or Retention: The failure of an employer to maintain a reasonable standard among its employees, putting those in the employer's care at risk of injury, such as allowing a teacher who is known to have inappropriately propositioned a student in the past to continue teaching
- Premises Liability: Failure to properly maintain a property resulting in injury, like when an isolated area of a building has no surveillance
The damages that the survivor can seek compensate for include:
- Medical or therapy bills
- Pain and suffering, both mental and physical
- Lost wages
- Loss of consortium (loss of relationship with spouse, companion, or family)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
An issue that prevents some sexual assault lawsuits from moving forward is that the defendant often does not have very much money. Unlike in medical malpractice or automobile lawsuits, individuals do not have sexual assault insurance to pay the cost of a settlement or verdict. So, if a defendant doesn't have the assets, there is no other mechanism available to award money to a plaintiff.
Sometimes, a perpetrator does in fact have enough assets to warrant a lawsuit. In other cases, a third-party defendant such as a hospital or business will pay the victim. These third parties may have larger assets or insurance that will cover the cost of the damages.
You may also be wondering who pays the legal fees in this sort of lawsuit. All legal fees should be clearly set out by the attorney at the start. Most likely, you will hire a lawyer with a contingency fee. This means that your lawyer will front the cost of your case and take a percentage of the recovery once the case is won or settled. At Miller & Zois, if we lose a case, we take on all of the costs and our client pays nothing.The Lawsuit Process
A harmful opinion exists which holds that women who come forward with sexual assault and harassment, especially when the file a lawsuit, are selfishly interested in taking down a man they dislike and making a lot of money.
The reality of the situation says otherwise. For one, few sexual assault victims ever make it to court. For those who do, a criminal or civil case can be an immensely stressful experience. The process is slow and requires a lot of time and work. Spending time and money on the case, disclosing the details of her life to strangers, and reliving the assault over and over again is difficult and exhausting.
Nor do women sue because of a personal vendetta or a desire to take a lot of money from a rich man. Survivors of sexual assault seek compensation because they need and deserve compensation. The defendants are rarely wealthy, famous men and are often institutions that failed in their duty to protect vulnerable people from harm. Survivors have experienced emotional trauma as a result of another's criminal or negligent actions and have lost time and money as well.
This is all to say that survivors of sexual assault have a right to seek a compensation. It is entirely their choice to pursue or not pursue a civil action, and for some, a lawsuit can be empowering and rewarding. Survivors should be prepared, though, for the long task ahead. All in all, the process can take two to five years to complete and may not be successful in the end.
The first step of pursuing a lawsuit is to consult with a lawyer, and hopefully with a sexual assault advocate and therapist as well. The lawyer will then research the facts and determine if you have a case. If you do, they will send a letter to the perpetrator notifying them of your intent to sue. They will also file a complaint with the court. A complaint is an outline of the damages done which formally begins the case.
The perpetrator then has the opportunity to ask the court to dismiss the case or send an answer to the complaint. Their answer will either admit to the allegations or deny the allegations. They may also choose to file a lawsuit against you in return
The next step is called discovery. In discovery, each side puts together evidence and information. They try to find out everything they can about the assault and each other, which means that private information is usually exposed. You may be ordered by the court to undergo an independent medical or psychiatric investigation. Discovery also includes the deposition, in which the parties question each other under oath, and interrogatories, written questions exchanged between the parties.
At this point, the parties can ask for the court to decide the case before trial. This happens when it is crystal clear who will win the case, and the court has only to make a final decision. Or, the parties can settle. You or the defendant will sometimes want to agree to a payment to avoid the publicity of a trial. A settlement can also be reached once the trial begins.
During the trial, the plaintiff and defense attorneys will present their arguments and examine witnesses. You will have to testify, answering questions posed by both lawyers. The case is decided either by a judge or a jury, if the lawyers request one.
Whatever the outcome, both sides can attempt to appeal the court's ruling. However, this needs to be carefully discussed with a lawyer to assess if an appeal is a good idea. If the plaintiff wins, they will receive the damages that the court decided on, but only if the defendant has the necessary assets.A Survivor's Privacy During a Lawsuit
Plaintiffs are sometimes allowed to remain anonymous and often go simply by "Jane Doe" or "John Doe" in court documents. Maryland has some confusing law on this that most courts ignore. Children are named only by their initials.
Still, during the lawsuit, survivors risk losing a great deal of privacy. During the discovery period of the case, the defendant will attempt to obtain information about the plaintiff. Additionally, the plaintiff has to provide the evidence needed to prove that the defendant caused them harm.
The defendant may ask for a plaintiff's medical and psychiatric records, education and employment history, past legal or criminal history, tax returns, and even information about their social life and sexual history.
However, the plaintiff's attorney will decide if such information is relevant and can ask for the court to turn down requests that are not relevant or seem to exist purely to harass their client. Read a sample motion to turn down a request for sensitive records here.
In Maryland, Subtitle 3 of Title 3 guarantees that a victim's past sexual conduct will not be used as a part of a trial unless necessary and relevant to the case. This amendment does not only pertain to privacy but dissuades the defense from arguing that a victim's sexual habits somehow make her assault less of a crime.Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes
New laws are helping to ensure that victims of sex crimes can seek justice and compensation even if they wait to do so until years after the assault took place. Now, the state has to keep evidence for twenty years after an incident, instead of throwing it away after a few months. Additionally, sexual assault forensic exams, commonly known as "rape kits" must be sent to laboratories within thirty days.
There is no criminal statute of limitations on sexual assault in Maryland. This means that there is no time limit within which a survivor must press charges. There is, however, a statute of limitations for civil cases. A survivor must file a lawsuit within three years of when the assault took place.
If the victim was a minor when they were sexually assaulted, there is an exception to the statute of limitations. These victims are able to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator any time before their 21th birthday.Other Sources of Financial Support for Survivors
As a survivor of sexual assault, a lawsuit is a way to receive compensation for any costs you have incurred as well as for your pain and suffering. However, there are additional ways for you to be compensated.
A faster, less formal way to sue your perpetrator is to file a small claim. You do not need a lawyer to go to small claims court, however you have to prove your case yourself and you can only receive a maximum of $5,000.
Maryland law says that free health care services will be given to survivors of sexual assault. The state reimburses the cost of physical examination, collection of evidence, and emergency treatment through the Sexual Assault Reimbursement Unit.
Maryland's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board allows victims of crimes to apply for financial aid. Victims can be awarded a maximum of $45,000 for medical expenses, $5,000 for the cost of counseling, and $25,000 for lost wages or disability. To be eligible, you must report the crime within 48 hours to the police and file for funding within 3 years, excepting child victims. Equivalent funds exist across the country.Sexual Assault Verdicts and Settlements
Read a sample sexual assault complaint here. A document like this would summarize the case according to the plaintiff and their lawyer and would be sent to the court in order to begin a lawsuit. Please note that the sample complaint and the remainder of this subheading contain descriptions of disturbing sexual assaults.
Below are examples of sexual assault lawsuits that resulted in verdicts and settlements in favor of plaintiffs. You should not expect your case to look like one of these cases, but they can help you get a sense of what is possible.
- November, 2019, Massachusetts, $90,000 Settlement: A man comes to Salem, Massachusetts to celebrate Halloween with his sister and her boyfriend. He has too much to drink and ends up leaving the water on and flooding his hotel room. Someone calls the police, and an officer, the defendant in this case, responds. Soaking wet, the man changes out of his clothes and is wrapped in a blanket sitting on a chair. The officer starts touching him and pulls him into a closet. Inside, the officer sexually assaults the young man, who at this point is still in the officer's protective custody. The plaintiff hires a lawyer who files a lawsuit. The claim alleges that his civil rights were violated, that the officer demonstrated gross negligence, and that the police department negligently supervised and trained its officers. He experienced emotional distress as a result of the incident. The defendant officer, however, claims that what happened between them was consensual. The parties agree to settle for $90,000.
- June 2019, Missouri, $8,200,000 Verdict: A woman uses Uber to get rides to and from an event. She uses the same driver both times. On the way back to her apartment, she is drunk. She gets inside the apartment, but her driver calls multiple times asking to use her bathroom. She lets him inside and he rapes her. As a result of the rape, she suffers emotional distress and PTSD symptoms, making it difficult to continue with her post-graduate program. Additionally, she claims that Uber knew about a prior incident with the driver, in which he was found guilty of domestic assault. In the end, charges against Uber were dropped, but the judge ruled that the perpetrator was responsible for 8.2 million in damages and punitive damages, which are damages intended as punishment for the man's crimes.
- June 2019, Florida, $900,000 Verdict: The plaintiff, a woman living in Pensacola, Florida, is raped in her apartment by a maintenance man. As a maintenance employee of the apartment complex, he had access to her room. She files a lawsuit against the perpetrator for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and against the apartment for negligent hiring and retention. The perpetrator is found liable, and she is awarded $900,000. However, she dismisses the claim against the apartment.
- February 2019, California, $41,600,000 Settlement: A man and a woman live together for one year. They have a daughter together. Shortly after her birth, the man kills the woman. Over the course of hours, he sexually assaults and tortures her, before eventually murdering her. He goes to jail thereafter for homicide. In a lawsuit against the man, the woman's mother argues that her daughter suffered immensely for a long period of time before she was killed. For wrongful death and as a survivor of the woman, the mother is awarded 41.6 million, which includes punitive damages.
- January 2019, California, $58,250,000 Verdict: A woman working as a production assistant begins to experience inappropriate behavior from the owner of her company. His conduct falls under harassment and unwanted sexual contact-a sexual offense. The abuse is happening every day, and eventually makes her resign from her job. She becomes introverted and develops a depressive disorder and PTSD, both of which are expected to affect her for the rest of her life. In the trial, the jury finds the man committed sexual battery and awards the woman compensatory as well as punitive damages.
- December 2018, New York, $27,500,000 Settlement: This case involves a serial child molester who was a religious instructor with the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. The assaults were many and happened throughout a four-year period. The instructor was frequently left alone with children. He would pick them up from school, bring them to a daycare center, and spend time with children when their parents were late. The instructor is serving a 15-year jail sentence. The plaintiffs file a suit against the diocese because it became clear that members of the institution knew that the instructor was predatory but did little to stop him from having contact with children. The lawsuit settles before trial, awarding the four plaintiff's an equal share of $27,500,000. The plaintiffs were between eight and twelve years old when they were assaulted.
- June 2018, New Jersey, $35,000 Settlement: A woman is incarcerated at a New Jersey women's correctional facility. She is forced into multiple sex acts by correctional officers, claiming that one officer would perform the acts while the other kept watch. She claims that though the officers were fired, she continued to experience sexual assaults from other officers, who convinced other inmates to say good things about the staff in order to discredit her claims. The administrator of the facility, she claims, knew about the activity. She sues the New Jersey state corrections department, the administrator of the facility, and the officers for violating her civil rights, assault and battery, common law negligence, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring and retention.
- January 2018, Maryland, $22,130,000 Verdict: A 30-year-old man goes to the dentist with a cracked molar. He cracked his tooth while eating peanuts. The dentist informs his patient that he has to remove the tooth and sedates him with nitrous oxide so that he can do so. The man awakes from his unconscious state to discover that the dentist is forcing him into oral sex. For this and a number of other sexual assault charges, the dentist goes to jail. The man files a lawsuit against the dentist and his practice, seeking damages for emotional distress and medical injuries associated with the cracked tooth.
- July 2017, California, $60,000,000 Verdict: In this high-profile case, three female students sue their taekwondo teacher for the sexual assault they experienced during the years they spent training with him. The girls were high level athletes and competed at events hosted by the US Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo. They were assaulted when they were between the ages of 15 and 17, and though they were not physically hurt, continue to experience extensive psychological trauma. Their coach would have them drink alcohol and have sex with him in hotel rooms while they were travelling for competitions. The coach was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail. The judge in this civil case awarded each of the girls $10,000,000 for past pain and suffering and $20,000,000 for future pain and suffering.
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
- Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA)
- House of Ruth Maryland
- A Guide to Civil Actions for Survivors of Sexual Assault