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Can a Victim of Rape Sue for Money Damages?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 22, 2016 2:57 PM

As we've learned from the Bill Cosby allegations, sometimes a district attorney declines to bring charges against accused rapists. Or if they do, it could be 10 years later. And even if a rapist is charged, convicted, and goes to jail, a victim may not be compensated for his or her trauma, pain, or suffering.

So can rape victims sue their rapists in civil court?

Intentional Torts

There is a class of civil lawsuits that cover intentionally inflicted injuries, both physical and mental. Intentional tort claims seek to compensate the victims of purposeful harm. While there is no specific civil claim for rape, there are several intentional torts that may apply in a rape case, depending on the circumstances:

  • Assault: If the rapist intended to and cause the victim apprehension of harmful or offensive contact.
  • Battery: If the rapist intentionally caused non-consensual contact (some jurisdictions allow claims for sexual battery).
  • False Imprisonment: If the rapist restrained the victim against his or her will.
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: If the rapist's extreme and outrageous conduct caused the victim severe emotional distress and/or bodily harm.

Any one of these claims, if successful, could secure damages for a rape victim. The exact amount of damages would depend on the particular facts in each case.

The Clock Is Ticking

In any legal case, criminal or civil, there are statutes of limitation. These are the time limits that the legal system places on criminal prosecutors and civil plaintiffs in which to file their case. If the claim is not filed in time, the right to bring the case could be forfeited.

Statutes of limitation vary, depending on the state and the type of case. More serious claims tend to have longer statutes of limitation. For example, intentional torts must be filed in California within two years, but Florida allows four years to file such claims. And most states allow more time to file if the victim was a minor at the time.

Intentional tort claims, and the statutes that regulate them, can be extremely complicated. If you have been assaulted and are thinking of filing a lawsuit, you should consult an experienced injury attorney.

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