Filing A Civil Lawsuit In Maryland For A Sexual Offense

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If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, it is exceptionally brave and admirable that you are considering filing suit against the person who assaulted you. The prospect of taking legal action is intimidating to many victims of sexual assault, who may not want to relive the event or perhaps fear retaliation if they do take legal action against the offender. Anyone who considers pursuing charges should be applauded for their bravery, not least because they stand to protect others who could be assaulted by the same individual in the future. Here, we will provide a thorough overview explaining how to file a civil lawsuit for sexual assault in Maryland.

Victims of sexual assault may contend with a number of emotions: anger, hatred, fear, confusion. Taking on a lawsuit in the middle of this difficult recovery period is usually the last thing anyone wants to do, but in some cases it is entirely necessary. Sexual assault attorneys Gilman and Bedigian understand that you are working through the incident and its aftermath; they are prepared to take on your sexual assault case immediately so that the assaulter can be brought to justice and you can start regaining your peace of mind. 

Maryland Sexual Assault Law

Sexual assault, including rape and other sexual offenses, is a crime in Maryland. Brand new laws in the state have shifted the legislative focus to victims’ rights. Recent measures, passed in September 2017, established the following: the state must retain evidence of sexual assault for 20 years after the incident (old provisions allowed the state to dispose of these records after just a few months); coerced oral or anal sex constitutes rape every bit as much as forced intercourse; a victim does not need to struggle or attempt to fight their assaulter for the offense to be considered rape or sexual assault.

Maryland law states:

(a) A person may not engage in vaginal intercourse with another: (1) by force, or the threat of force, without the consent of the other;

(2) if the victim is a substantially cognitively impaired individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual, and the person performing the act knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a substantially cognitively impaired individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual;  or

(3) if the victim is under the age of 14 years, and the person performing the act is at least 4 years older than the victim.

(a) A person may not:
 (1) engage in a sexual act with another by force, or the threat of force, without the consent of the other;  and

(2)(i) employ or display a dangerous weapon, or a physical object that the victim reasonably believes is a dangerous weapon;

(ii) suffocate, strangle, disfigure, or inflict serious physical injury on the victim or another in the course of committing the crime;

(iii) threaten, or place the victim in fear, that the victim, or an individual known to the victim, imminently will be subject to death, suffocation, strangulation, disfigurement, serious physical injury, or kidnapping;

(iv) commit the crime while aided and abetted by another;  or

(v) commit the crime in connection with a burglary in the first, second, or third degree.

Statute of Limitations in Maryland Sexual Assault Cases

Maryland law does not have a statute of limitations(SOL) for criminal sexual assault charges. The victim of sexual assault can report the crime anytime after the incident, even years or decades later. An individual can be charged and prosecuted with a felony sex crime in Maryland without a time limitation.

However, there may be a statute of limitations for civil lawsuits. The statute of limitations for filing a civil suit against a sexual assaulter in Maryland is generally 3 years from the date of the incident for adults. If the victim was under the age of 18, he or she has 7 years from the date the child turns 18 to file a civil claim.

A new law in Maryland, effective October 1, 2017, has extended the statute of limitations for minor victims of sexual assault filing a civil lawsuit against third parties. Individuals who were sexually abused as minors have 20 years from their 18th birthday to sue responsible third parties, such as churches, schools, childcare centers, etc. Victims have until the age of 38 to file a 3rd party claim where the victim can show “gross negligence,” by the third party. 

The Function of a Civil Suit For Sexual Assault in Maryland

Filing a civil suit for sexual assault allows the victim to demand damages (compensation) from the person who assaulted him or her, and to see that person punished under applicable laws. The victim, if he or she prevails in the case, would be entitled to economic and non-economic damages. For example, any lost wages or medical/psychiatric expenses incurred as a result of the crime would fall under the umbrella of economic damages. Non-economic damages would cover intangible losses, such as emotional distress, trauma and suffering.

If the assault occurred in the workplace, the first course of action is to report the offending individual to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) officer. A complaint should be filed within 300 days of the incident. This is not a necessary precursor to filing a civil suit for sexual assault in Maryland, but is considered a best practice in cases of workplace sexual assault. If the EEOC investigates and chooses not to litigate the claim on your behalf, they will issue a Right to Sue Letter. If you wish to file suit, you should do so within 90 days of receiving the letter.

Differences Between a Civil Suit and a Criminal Suit

In a civil suit, the victim initiates and controls the case. By contrast, the victim is only a witness in a criminal suit, and the purpose of the suit is to hold the defendant accountable to the state. A civil suit allows the victim to be present through every step of their case, and have final approval over the proposed settlement. It is also the only way a victim can seek damages for the assault. Even if there was no criminal conviction or state prosecution levied against the individual, the victim can still see him or her brought to justice and held accountable through a civil suit.

In the name of preventing future assaults on others, the victim can include additional responsible parties in the suit, such as an employer whose negligence may have contributed to the circumstances leading to the sexual assault. There may be a corresponding criminal case and conviction for the same incident; this would only aid a civil suit because it has already been proven that the defendant is guilty.

The chief difference between criminal and civil suits is that a criminal suit determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant, while a civil suit determines whether or not the defendant is liable. The objective of a civil suit is not to put the defendant in prison, but to hold them accountable for the assault by way of damages. The “burden of proof” in a civil suit is lower, meaning the plaintiff does not have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the assault. The plaintiff only needs to prove the defendant committed the assault with a probability rate of 51%. Civil suits are proven by a “preponderance of evidence,” while criminal suits must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil suit, there is no presumption that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

The Steps of A Civil Suit for Sexual Assault

  1. The first order of business is to consult with a qualified Maryland attorney who can litigate this type of claim. Securing a skilled legal representative who is well-versed in Maryland law is key to a Maryland sexual assault lawsuit.
  2. The lawyer will begin by obtaining all relevant details of the assault from the victim, gathering evidence, conducting an investigation and devising a legal strategy for the case.
  3. The lawyer would then a file a Complaint with the court, which would lay out the facts of the case. The defendant is given a fixed amount of time to file an Answer with the court.
  4. Both sides then undergo a process known as Discovery, allowing them to request and obtain information from one another regarding the case. This can be achieved through lists of written questions (interrogatories), requests for documents and depositions of the plaintiff, defendant and witnesses. At this point, they may also file motions with the court to have certain aspects or defenses of the case dismissed. The defendant may attempt to have the entire case thrown out.
  5. If no settlement is reached between the two parties, it will go to trial. Both sides present their cases and the judge or jury hears their respective arguments.
  6. If the plaintiff prevails and meets the necessary standard of proof, the court will award damages to the extent that it sees fit.

Maryland Sexual Assault Attorney

Retaining the right attorney to handle your case is arguably the most important step you can take in your Maryland sexual assault civil suit. Attorneys Gilman and Bedigian have achieved record-setting settlements for their clients across the state of Maryland. If you have been the victim of a sexual assault and wish to file a civil suit against the perpetrator, do not hesitate to contact Maryland sexual assault attorneys Gilman and Bedigian. Call 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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