If you were sexually abused when you were under the age of 18, you may be frustrated and angry about it, especially if your abuser didn't get punished in criminal court. Sometimes the criminal courts simply don't have enough evidence to convict someone "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, civil courts follow a different standard. In civil court, you only have to prove "by the preponderance of the evidence" that something likely happened. That can make it possible for you to win a personal injury case for sexual abuse even when a criminal case isn't possible. If you're about to turn 18 and are thinking about this possibility, this is what you should know.
How long do you have to decide to file a lawsuit?
Every state has what is known as a statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Once that period of time is over, you are forever barred from bringing a personal injury suit for that particular event.
Normally, the statute of limitations would start ticking when the abuse happened and end whenever dictated by the laws in your state. However, because you were a minor when the abuse happened, most states don't start the clock on the statute of limitations until your 18th birthday. Just the same, if you think that you want to file a lawsuit, don't delay—the laws are complex and you may not have the full period normally given in the statute of limitations to file.
For example, if you were sexually abused by a school teacher or on school property, one of the parties to your lawsuit could be the school itself. In that case, you could have as little as a year to file, because the school is a government entity. In other states, specific laws have been passed regarding lawsuits that involve sexual abuse, which could increase or decrease the amount of time that you have significantly
How do you pay for an attorney?
Paying for an attorney in order to file a lawsuit can be difficult for anyone, no matter your age. However, there are some ways that you can get the legal assistance that you need.
Most cities or counties have some form of legal aid society that will help people who have little or no income. In addition, there are some attorneys who will take on a case pro bono, which means for free. Consider calling the bar association in your area to ask if free or low-cost legal aid is available in your area.
Some attorneys will also take certain types of personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis. When an attorney agrees to represent someone on a contingency fee, he or she only gets paid if a case is successful. Keep in mind that contingency fees are usually high—typically 1/3 of the settlement, before any expenses are taken out. That makes it fair for the attorney, who is taking the risk of not getting paid at all for his or her work.
For more information on how to proceed with a lawsuit regarding sexual abuse that you suffered as a minor, talk to a local attorney like Swartz & Swartz P.C.