The crime victims’ legal rights movement has gained a lot of momentum over the last decade. This is due to increased media attention to some large-scale crime victim lawsuits, most notably the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania or the multiple teacher sex abuse cases in New Jersey. Some of these cases have resulted in historic verdicts for the victims.
Criminal Prosecution & Civil Lawsuits – Not the Same
Time and time again, victims of sexual assault or physical assault are often in the dark about their legal rights. While most people know of their legal rights to file a criminal complaint, not many know about their legal rights in the civil courts. Criminal prosecution is not the same as a civil lawsuit. A criminal prosecution is geared toward the defendant’s conviction and sentence. A civil lawsuit is geared toward making the victim whole.
Victims of Crime in Pennsylvania & New Jersey – Civil Legal Rights to File a Lawsuit
While child molestation and sex abuse/assault cases seem to have taken the forefront of national media attention, it’s important that victims of physical assaults and adult victims of sex crimes know that they too have legal rights in the civil courts. Both the victim of child sex abuse by a priest or teacher and the victim of a physical assault in a bar have the same legal rights to file a civil lawsuit to receive financial compensation. This is true in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Under the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, an individual who was sexually assaulted or physically assaulted can file a civil lawsuit against the criminal perpetrator. Other parties are often liable as well, such as a school or church in a child molestation case or a bar or homeowner in a physical assault case. The law holds people responsible for committing any act of negligence that causes foreseeable harm to another person.
Negligence is defined in Pennsylvania as the failing to do something when you should have or doing something you should not have done. Two common examples are discussed below.
Example 1: Sexual Assault of a Student in a Church/School Setting
An employee at a church/school in Pennsylvania starts grooming a child for abuse, spending extra time with the child, driving the child home, etc. The behavior escalates into texting pictures of a sexual nature. One teacher sees the employee holding hands with the student and makes a verbal report to the principal who fails to write a report in violation of the school’s written policy. The principal seeks to avoid any paper trail and instead talks to the employee about ceasing any inappropriate behavior with the student. The employee ignores the principal and continues abusing the student.
Theories of Liability Against a Church or School
In a child sex assault case, a church or school can be held liable in a civil lawsuit for any of the following acts of negligence:
- failure to conduct background checks (or repeated background checks),
- failure to investigate acts of assault,
- failure to report acts of assault, and
- failure to train staff about protocols for reporting assault.
These theories of liability also apply to day care centers, youth organizations, etc.
Example 2: Physical Assault in a Bar or Restaurant
A group of friends get together at a local bar in New Jersey which is known to be overcrowded on the weekends. This group gets into an argument with another group. As the night goes on, both groups are served large amounts of alcohol. Multiple people in each group are intoxicated, but keep getting served alcohol by bartenders who are too busy to pay attention to the intoxication levels of the bar’s patrons. At the end of the night, the two groups get into a physical altercation, and two people suffer serious injuries in the assault.
Related: DUI Accidents and Bar & Restaurant Liability
Theories of Liability Against a Business Entity
In a physical assault case, any business can be held liable for:
- negligence in serving alcohol,
- violating state liquor service laws (dram shop laws),
- failure to train staff about security or alcohol service,
- failure to provide adequate security, and
- failure to warn customers about known or foreseeable criminal activity.
In cases where an individual is injured due to criminal conduct of a third party, a business is often liable for negligence in providing security. For example, a retail store, mall, grocery store, etc. may be liable when a customer is injured due to criminal conduct that was foreseeable, such as a robbery or car-jacking. This also applies to a landlord, either commercial or residential.
Financial Compensation Claims Allowed – Pennsylvania & New Jersey Law
In sex assault or physical assault cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the injured individual has a right to make a claim for all financial losses which flowed from the assault and injuries. For example, an individual who suffered a broken bone due to a physical assault can seek compensation for medical bills, out of pocket expenses and lost wages. A victim of child sex assault can seek compensation for psychological treatment.
In addition, the injured individual also has a right to make a claim for pain and suffering, i.e., any physical pain and mental suffering caused by an assault.
Lastly, claims for punitive damages may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances. To succeed in a claim for punitive damages, the injured individual has to prove that the at-fault party engaged in particularly egregious behavior or acted with a reckless disregard for the health and safety of others. In many child sex assault cases, the facts will support a claim for punitive damages.
Assault Lawyers for Victims in Pennsylvania & New Jersey
Laffey, Bucci & Kent is a nationally recognized law firm which focuses on crime victims rights cases including sexual assaults and physical assaults. Our attorneys are licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other states. For a free consultation, contact us at (866) 641-0806
**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.