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Criminal and civil actions for sex abuse have different results

Previous posts here have discussed some of the technical legal requirements with regard to filing civil claims for sexual abuse. These include the statute of limitations for filing and some of the procedural hoops that may need to be jumped through to file such a claim. But, what reason is there to file a claim in the first place? The criminal law in Connecticut has a mechanism for punishing those who commit sexual abuse, and even has a concept known as "restitution" where the perpetrator owes the victim monetary damages to compensate for economic loss. Why then, might a victim go through the anguish of re-living the abuse in a civil trial?

The first reason a victim might file a civil lawsuit stems from the technical legal considerations mentioned above. While a perpetrator of a sex abuse crime may be in prison and therefore not able to pay any sort of damages to a victim, if another person or organization's negligence allowed the abuse to happen to continue, such as a failure by a mandatory reporter to report signs of abuse, that individual or organization may be liable.

The second reason a civil lawsuit may of use has to do with the basics of the differences between criminal and civil law. To begin with, the criminal law requires the state to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. This can often be a difficult burden to carry, especially if a case's circumstances boil down to whether a jury believes the victim or the defendant. However, in a civil case, the plaintiff may recover damages if it can be shown that the defendant did something wrong by a simple preponderance of the evidence; that is, that the defendant is more likely than not to have committed the act. Further, restitution ordered by a criminal court can only cover economic damages suffered by the victim, such as medical bills and other economically quantifiable amounts. In contrast, a civil lawsuit based upon tort law may allow a plaintiff to recover for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.

As we have alluded to previously, it takes a tremendous amount of courage for victims of sexual abuse to come forward in any context. It is even harder to deal with testifying in more than one trial about a very personal subject. However, the advantages of filing a civil action in Connecticut to recover the compensation a victim deserves from a perpetrator or other party who shares responsibility for the abuse may make mustering that courage worthwhile.

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