Victims Rights FAQs
- How Do I Bring a Lawsuit for Sexual Assault or Date Rape?
- How Long Do I Have to Bring a Lawsuit?
- What if the Victim is a Child?
- What If I Was Raped by Someone Who Has No Money?
- How Much Does It Cost to Bring a Lawsuit for Sex Assault or Sex Abuse?
Sex assault, date rape, and other sex crimes are brought as assault cases in New York State courts. More complicated cases involving either parties from two different states or violations of federal laws (including civil rights laws protecting inmates and victims of police violence) can be brought in federal court. The case is started by the filing of a "complaint" in court. A complaint must be drafted very carefully to ensure it sets out one or more valid "causes of action" and contains enough facts to support the causes of action. The defendant must then file an "answer" or a motion to dismiss the complaint. After any motion is ruled on, the case proceeds to discovery, including the exchange of any relevant documents and depositions. Depositions involve the taking of testimony under oath before a court reporter (stenographer). After discovery is completed, either side may move for "summary judgment" i.e. judgment without a trial. However, if the facts of the case are disputed, then a trial will take place and, in most cases, a jury will resolve the disputed facts. At any step in this process, the parties may reach a settlement of the case in order to prevent further litigation. In practice, civil cases alleging sex assault or other sex-related damages frequently settle either before the case is filed or before the defendant is scheduled for a deposition. If you have been sexually assaulted or raped and are considering bringing a lawsuit for damages, you should consult with an attorney immediately. Please call our office at 212-685-0999 for more information.
The length of time you have to bring a lawsuit depends on the "statute of limitations" also called the "limitations period" for the particular conduct that caused your injuries. Statutes of limitations are complicated and must be carefully analyzed for each individual case. However, the general statute of limitations for intentional torts -- i.e. for intentional sexual assault or date rape -- is one year. The statute of limitations for negligence is usually three years. Other limitations periods apply in different circumstances, including for crimes against children. In order to determine whether your lawsuit is still timely, you should consult with a lawyer.
Child victims present special problems. In New York, sexual contact of any kind with anyone under 17 is illegal. Images of children under 18 are considered child pornography and may also give rise to civil damages. Sexual abuse and exploitation have repeatedly been shown to be extraordinarily damaging to children. However, very young children frequently have difficulty remembering or articulating what happened to them. They may also fear their abuser or wish to protect him if he is a family member or authority figure. In addition, courts are very careful to ensure that any settlement made on behalf of a child is fair to the child.
If your assailant is indigent and cannot pay a judgment, there is probably little point in bringing a civil lawsuit against him as any judgment obtained would be impossible to collect. You may be better off going to the police or a social services agency in order to obtain protection from the person and, if appropriate, have him criminally prosecuted.
Legal fees in a lawsuit for sexual assault or date rape are typically paid as a "contingency fee." That means that the attorney collects a portion of the proceeds of the lawsuit, usually one third of the amount collected. If the attorney is unable to collect any money on your behalf, there is no legal fee due. We bring lawsuits on a contingency basis in carefully selected cases where both the victim's injuries can be proven and the defendant (i.e. the person who assaulted you or another person responsible for your injuries) is able to pay a judgment if we win. In other cases, we charge victims on an hourly basis to advocate on their behalf in dealing with the authorities such as the police or the district attorney's office. The Law Office of Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma has obtained large settlements for victims of sexual abuse. If your case is strong and there is an individual or organization able to compensate you for your injuries, we will work hard to ensure you obtain all the compensation you deserve.