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Reasonable Foreseeability in Sexual Abuse Cases

Reasonable Foreseeability in Sexual Abuse Cases

Reasonable Foreseeability in Sexual Abuse Cases 

One of the most important things to keep in mind about sexual abuse cases is the difference between a criminal case and a civil case. The distinction is critical because there are different standards to be met in each. In a criminal case, the standard is reasonable doubt. The prosecuting attorney must prove with evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime as charged. Note that there can still be doubt, just not very much, or not enough to deter a reasonable person’s belief that the defendant is guilty. The standard in a civil case, however, is much lower. It is referred to as reasonable foreseeability, and it’s why many fare better in a civil case than a criminal case.

In sexual abuse cases, it often comes down to one person saying one thing and the other person saying something different – the victim claims harm was done, while the alleged perpetrator claims otherwise. The fact that their statements differ means one of them may be lying, and just the very idea that one of them might be lying creates reasonable doubt. This explains why so many sexual abuse cases are never criminally prosecuted. The standard to be met is very high. It also explains why civil cases become so important to many victims of sexual abuse. Their chance of achieving some kind of legal remedy is much higher.

The case that immediately comes to people’s minds when I highlight the differences between criminal and civil cases is the O.J. Simpson case, one of the most highly publicized criminal trials in the history of America. Simpson was found not guilty in the criminal case. His lawyers were able to persuade the jury that there was reasonable doubt concerning the evidence. However, when families of the victims sued Simpson in a civil case for $40 million in damages for the wrongful death of Ronald Goldman and the battery of Nicole Brown Simpson, the jury unanimously agreed there was a preponderance of evidence to hold Simpson liable.

Most of the cases I deal with don’t have stakes quite that high in monetary terms, but the stakes are every bit as high from an emotional viewpoint. The pain and suffering victims of sexual abuse experience is very real, and a civil case often represents the only form of justice they can achieve.

In many of my cases, what I’m doing is suing an institution, like a school or church, for being negligent. The institution either did something or didn’t do something that allowed someone, often a child, to be sexually abused. And this is where reasonable foreseeability comes back into play. The institution in question should have reasonably foreseen that this might happen.

Take a school situation, for example. Let’s say a school hires a new teacher. Everyone’s happy. Later on, the principal hears tell or maybe even comes across something on the Internet that this teacher may have been involved in something bad some time ago, and maybe it was sexual in nature, but the principal shrugs it off and doesn’t look into it any further.

If that teacher commits a sexual abuse crime at that school and it comes to light that the school caught wind of something wrong about that teacher’s past, you can bet in a civil case it would be brought up as evidence that the school was negligent; that the school should have reasonably foreseen that this teacher might be a danger. After all, schools have a legal obligation to protect students from foreseeable harm. Or it might come out through peers that the teacher was saying a lot of things to students or their colleagues that made people wonder about their character. Every single red flag possible from the hiring process through to supervision and beyond will come into play.

The differences between criminal cases with their reasonable doubt standard and civil cases with their reasonable foreseeability standard are real. Although many victims of sexual abuse do not get to see perpetrators go to jail or prison for their crimes, they more often achieve some measure of justice in the civil courts.

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