Sep 9, 2021
In California and throughout the nation, sexual assault survivors have the option of pursuing justice through two avenues: civil and criminal lawsuits. These two options for justice are actually entirely separate, with the former – civil claims – being commonly misunderstood.
For survivors of sexual assault, it’s important to understand the differences between civil and criminal lawsuits. Depending on a survivor’s personal situation, needs, and preferences, one type of claim may be in their best interest while another may be unappealing for various reasons.
Below we will look at the main differences between criminal and civil sexual assault lawsuits and discuss which option (or, in some cases, options) are best for you. We’ll also look at the possible advantages and benefits of filing a sexual assault civil lawsuit with Dordulian Law Group (DLG).
Criminal lawsuits are not brought by the individual survivor, but rather the district attorney’s (D.A.) office. Charges are filed by the district attorney against the perpetrator, and a jury trial typically proceeds. DLG’s founder, Sam Dordulian, is a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County who successfully obtained life sentences against some of our community’s most heinous sexual predators.
However, the district attorney does not represent the actual survivor in criminal proceedings. Rather, the D.A. is actually the lawyer for “the people.” Accordingly, sometimes criminal legal proceedings may evolve in a way that is not necessarily in the best interest of the survivor.
Criminal cases may involve the perpetrator being convicted of a sex crime and eventually sentenced to a prison term. In some cases, financial restitution may be awarded to the survivor, but this is typically rare in criminal proceedings (and strictly covers economic damages, such as medical bills or hospital expenses). As we’ll discuss below, non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or emotional trauma can only be recovered in civil cases (in addition to economic damages). But with criminal cases, the one exception to this rule of survivors being strictly eligible for economic damages is under PC 288 of the Criminal Code, which involves lewd acts with a child under 14.
Additionally, if any financial damages are awarded to a survivor in a criminal case, the final amount is usually a modest figure, as restitution may only be collected directly from the perpetrator who may or may not have any substantial assets.
Furthermore, criminal cases do not punish the perpetrator’s employer or affiliated institution (such as the Boy Scouts of America or Catholic Church) which may have been responsible for enabling the sexual assault – in many cases over the course of several years.
Most criminal felony sex crimes (including rape) are not subject to a statute of limitations in California. For a list of all states and their specific statutes of limitations for sex crimes, visit DLG’s partner organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
Civil lawsuits may be filed either by or on behalf of the survivor (known as the plaintiff). A civil lawsuit may be filed against both the perpetrator and any affiliated institution or employer that may have played a role in allowing the sexual assault to occur. Civil lawsuits are subject to the survivor’s attorney being able to demonstrate a preponderance of evidence to meet the burden of proof. Unlike criminal lawsuits that are subject to demonstrating evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, civil claims meet the burden of proof when the party with the burden convinces a judge or jury that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true.
However, it’s important to note that while the preponderance of evidence applies to jury trials, the vast majority of sexual assault civil lawsuits are actually settled out-of-court. In fact, three of DLG’s recent cases demonstrate our ability to recover maximum financial compensation on behalf of survivors under varying circumstances without going to court. For example:
In all of these cases and many others throughout the years, DLG has successfully secured maximum financial damages awards for sexual assault survivors without ever having to procced to trial (that said, DLG attorneys prepare every case for court, and with Sam Dordulian’s more than 100 jury trial victories, we offer an unparalleled level of courtroom experience).
Additionally, in civil sexual assault lawsuits the sexual history of the plaintiff is off limits unless the defense team produces a court order. According to the California Civil Code Section 2017.220, sexual abuse, assault, or harassment civil lawsuits require a court order to be produced before attempting to conduct what’s known as discovery into a plaintiff’s sexual conduct with individuals other than the perpetrator of the abuse.
Additionally, Section 2017.220 explicitly states that any party seeking sexual history or information must first obtain a court order by demonstrating that extraordinary circumstances justifying such discovery exist, including:
Sexual assault lawsuits do not result in jail time for the perpetrator. Rather, justice is sought via financial compensation for the survivor’s losses. At DLG, we fight to recover all applicable damages for sexual assault survivors.
Some common damages that may be recoverable after a sexual assault, abuse, or harassment lawsuit include:
Sexual assault civil lawsuits can be an excellent means for survivors to obtain justice on their own terms – often without having to endure a lengthy or painful jury trial. However, filing a civil claim as soon as possible is strongly recommended, as doing so increases the potential that your claim will reach a successful conclusion (and all civil claims are subject to a statute of limitations).
As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of felony criminal sex crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations in California. That means a criminal lawsuit for rape or other common types of sexual assault may be filed several years or even decades after the crime occurred.
With civil lawsuits for sexual assault, abuse, and harassment, a standard statute of limitations is in place in California. Adult survivors have 10 years from the date that the crime occurred or three years from the date of discovering that an injury (such as PTSD) was sustained as a result of the incident.
For a detailed overview on the statutes of limitations for California sex crimes, please visit our recent blog.
In California, child sexual abuse cases are treated separately from adult claims. Currently, the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse crimes is tolled (paused) throughout the state of California under legislation known as AB 218. For a limited time, all survivors of childhood sexual abuse in California are eligible to file a civil lawsuit in pursuit of financial compensation against either the perpetrating individual or entity.
However, the three-year lookback window (also known as a revival window) within AB 218 expires on December 31, 2022. After that time, many survivors of childhood sexual abuse – particularly those who endured crimes many years ago and did not officially file a civil claim – will be left without legal recourse.
Accordingly, it is recommended that all survivors of childhood sexual abuse come forward as soon as possible and file a claim with DLG. We’ll fight to secure you the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your child sexual abuse case.
With childhood sexual abuse civil lawsuits, although trials are a matter of public record, settlement agreements are not. Childhood sexual abuse cases often result in a settlement (as opposed to a jury trial verdict), allowing the survivor’s name to be kept out of the press.
Additionally, financial compensation awarded to childhood sexual abuse survivors can be substantial. In fact, under AB 218’s treble damages clause, the courts have the latitude to triple financial awards in instances where a cover-up occurred. In such cases where a cover-up is proven, childhood sexual abuse survivors may be issued three times the damages that were ultimately awarded. In other words, a $10 million damages award would ultimately be converted to a $30 million damages award for a survivor under AB 218’s treble damages clause.
At DLG, we fight to recover treble damages in all applicable cases. Led by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for L.A. County, Sam Dordulian, we’re here to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse finally obtain the justice that is long overdue.
Filing a sexual assault civil lawsuit is a choice that can only be made by the survivor. When a survivor comes forward with a civil claim, there are possible factors that may be viewed as beneficial when compared to criminal lawsuits.
Some such benefits may include:
A corresponding criminal sexual assault trial typically does not have a negative impact (or any impact at all) on a civil claim. While a criminal conviction could potentially improve the chances of a victorious civil claim, a criminal acquittal doesn’t necessarily correlate to a negative impact. In the case of Bill Cosby, the disgraced entertainer was found liable in multiple civil proceedings, only to eventually be found innocent (on appeal after an initial guilty verdict) on the criminal charges.
However, that individual case should not be discouraging for sexual assault survivors, as a skilled and dedicated attorney like Sam Dordulian can fight to help you obtain justice and recover maximum financial compensation regardless of whether or not a criminal case is proceeding (or how such proceedings play out).
One of the most notorious corresponding criminal and civil litigations involved O.J. Simpson and the murder of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Ultimately, Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case but found liable in the wrongful death civil proceedings.
While many people often assume criminal charges need to be filed first and a conviction needs to be obtained before civil charges are able to proceed, that notion is entirely false. Any criminal charges are entirely separate from a civil lawsuit, and the experienced team of sexual assault attorneys at DLG can help you file a claim and begin fighting to secure you the justice you deserve today.
When DLG’s founder, Sam Dordulian, was working as a sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, he successfully obtained life sentences against countless dangerous sexual predators.
With more than 100 jury trial victories, Dordulian offers survivors a level of experience and dedication that simply can’t be found at other sexual assault law firms. While serving as a sex crimes prosecutor, Dordulian saw first-hand how sexual assault survivors navigating the justice system often require additional resources (beyond just legal expertise).
Accordingly, Dordulian created the SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) within DLG’s Sex Crimes Division to offer survivors a four-tiered support network of dedicated professionals.
With DLG, survivors have 24/7 access to all four tiers of our SAJE Team:
By choosing DLG, a survivor can be confident that their case is the hands of trusted experts, and we’ll fight to recover maximum financial compensation for your sexual assault civil claim. Our past experience and proven results are an indication of the type of personalized attention and dedication we offer every sexual assault survivor client:
Contact us today online or by phone for a free and no obligation consultation. We’ll listen to the facts of your case (at DLG, we believe survivors), launch a thorough investigation led by our SAJE Team member and in-house Chief Investigator, Moses Castillo, and develop an aggressive but precise legal strategy based on our decades of experience and past results. We’ll fight to ensure you recover the maximum financial damages award you deserve, allowing you to move forward on your own terms.
With DLG’s No Win/No Fee Guarantee, survivors never have to worry about paying any upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses. DLG accepts cases on a contingency fee basis, and you do not pay anything until we recover maximum financial compensation for you.
DLG represents sexual assault survivors throughout California as well as the entire nation.
Survivors turn to DLG to handle their claims because of our experience, dedication, and proven results. We are here for you as your dedicated legal advocate when you’re ready to take the first step towards pursuing justice against your perpetrator – whether an individual, institution, or both.
Contact a member of DLG’s SAJE Team today to learn more about your options for justice available through a civil lawsuit.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.