When Can a Personal Injury Lawsuit be Filed for Sexual Abuse?

When Can a Personal Injury Lawsuit be Filed for Sexual Abuse

A personal injury lawsuit may take many forms. People mostly think of these suits in the context of car accidents or medical malpractice cases involving doctors and hospitals. But a PI (personal injury) case doesn’t need to involve broken bones or permanent physical injuries. It instead refers to any injury that occurs to a person and it doesn’t need to leave a visible scar at all.

So, mental and psychological injuries may be considered as personal injuries. Take for instance a recent spate of lawsuits, more than a dozen in fact, that were filed in Cook County Court against the Boy Scouts of America.

Fifteen cases were filed alleging that, in the 1980s, the Boy Scouts allowed a convicted sexual offender free reign to prey upon their scouts in a troop located in the Chicago suburb of Burbank. These court complaints are seeking millions of dollars in monetary damages and allege that the national Boy Scouts organization knew, or should have known, about of the sexual abuse, but allowed the abuse to continue without intervention.

According to reports, the scout leader (who is now in jail) had been arrested way back in 1961 for the molestation of scouts on a camp out. Around 1971, he was again arrested for taking indecent liberties with a child and labeled as an “ineligible volunteer”.  He also was apparently let go by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for molesting children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yet, over the following years, he was able to join at least two more troops located in Indiana before becoming affiliated with the Chicago suburban scout troop.

Who is Legally Responsible for Abuse?

Once a lawsuit is filed, a judge or jury will ultimately decide who is responsible under the law. They will also decide how much in monetary damages the wrongdoers will be ordered to pay the victims. One thing is likely true, though, if it can be proven that the abuser did in fact commit the sexual abuse, he or she will be found personally liable.

Collecting damages from such a person may be easier said than done. Especially because that person may be sentenced to jail in a related criminal case, the abuser may have insufficient funds to satisfy the court judgement.

So, if there are other possible defendants that may also be responsible for the abuse, an experienced attorney will always be sure to include them in the lawsuit as well.  In the example of the Boys Scouts lawsuits described above, the national organization was sued and, if later found liable, such an organization would have a higher likelihood that they would have sufficient funds and insurance sources needed to satisfy such a money judgement.

Time Limitations on Abuse Lawsuits

In Illinois, the general rule is that a personal injury lawsuit must be commenced within two years from the time that the injury event occurred. But there are some exceptions, and some of these arise frequently in those cases involving sexual abuse claims.

One of the most common exceptions relates to the age of the victim. Those who prey sexually upon others often do so to the very young. The law recognizes that children do not have the presence of mind to contact the police or the ability to call an attorney. So, for that reason, this time period (called the statute of limitations) does not begin to run until the child has attained the age of majority.

Another common exception involves that of “repressed memory”.  This refers to those who suffered childhood sexual trauma but repressed those memories for years or even decades until they were “recovered” later in life. This often occurs during psychiatric or psychological treatment.

In such circumstances that the court accepts the science behind repressed memories as reliable, sometimes cases like these are allowed to proceed despite how long ago the abuse occurred.

Other types of Sexual Abusers Who May be Subject of a Lawsuit

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. Some studies have shown that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are likely to be victims of sexual abuse. But a common thread that runs though such crimes is that offenders are often older and in a position of power over the abused, such as teachers, coaches, counsellors, and relatives.

Just like a Boy Scout leader, the same is sometimes also true of priests and other clergy who are looked up to for advice and counsel by altar boys or other parishioners. When someone has been abused by a priest, minister, reverend, or other religious leader, an experienced sex abuse personal injury attorney will likely include as an additional defendant in any lawsuit the supervising organization such as the Archdiocese of Chicago.

No other recent incidents of sexual misconduct have captured the headlines to a greater degree than the scandal engulfing USA Gymnastics and the disgraced team doctor from Michigan State University. Literally hundreds of victims have initiated lawsuits or plan to do so against the doctor. In addition to the doctor, other entities will undoubtedly also be included as additional defendants in these PI lawsuits: none more prominently than USA Gymnastics.

It is alleged by the plaintiffs, including Olympic champion Aly Raisman, that this governing body knew about the abuse, yet allowed it to continue and then attempted to cover it up.  If these allegations are believed by the court system, USA Gymnastics will be held legally and financially liable, just as will the actual offending doctor.

If you or a loved one has been sexually abused by another, Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC can help you guide you through the legal process and hold those responsible to be legally and financially accountable. Call our 24-hour hotline at (312) 644-0444 now for free information.