Sexual Assault and Battery Claims in California
Sexual assault and battery claims in California which may give rise to civil liability for money damages are clearly provided for by statute. In fact, CA law provides an exact definition of a “sexual battery” and specific legal remedies for victims. It should be noted that while criminal definitions are similar, these statutes specifically apply to tortious conduct (i.e. wrongful acts for which the law permits a civil cause of action to be brought for monetary damages).How Does CA law Define a Sexual Assault and Battery Claim for Purposes of a Civil Action for Monetary Compensation?
In order to be liable, a plaintiff (person bringing the personal injury lawsuit), must show three elements as follows:
ONE: That the defendant(s) (persons against whom the action is brought, intended to cause a harmful or offensive contact with plaintiff’s “sexual organ, anus, groin, buttocks or breast”, and a sexually offensive contact with plaintiff resulted, either directly or indirectly;
That defendant(s) intended to cause a harmful or offensive contact with plaintiff by use of defendant(s)’s sexual organ, anus, groin, buttocks, or breast, and a sexually offensive contact with plaintiff resulted, either directly or indirectly;
That defendant(s) “caused an imminent fear of a harmful or offensive contact” with plaintiff’s sexual organ, anus, groin, buttocks or breast …
Plaintiff did not consent to the touching; and
Plaintiff was harmed or offended by defendant’s conduct.
Therefore, under the laws of the State of California, a “sexual battery” for purposes of a personal injury claim, occurs when either harmful sexual touching or offensive contact occurs or when the victim is placed in imminent fear of such contact. Lack of consent and actual harm suffered or offense taken are also elements, however, “As a general rule, one who consents to a touching cannot recover in an action for battery. … However, it is well-recognized a person may place conditions on the consent. If the actor exceeds the terms or conditions of the consent, the consent does not protect the actor from liability for the excessive act.” Ashcraft v. King (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 604, 609-610 In other words, if consent was initially provided for some intimate contact but, the perpetrator goes beyond that consent to more aggressive sexual behavior, the defense of consensual sex will not lie.What Legal Remedies Does Calif. law Allow to Victims of Sex Abuse?
Victims of sexual assault and battery are entitled to numerous, specified statutory remedies. The statute states, in pertinent part as follows:
“A person who commits a sexual battery upon another is liable to that person for damages, including, but not limited to, general damages, special damages, and punitive damages. The court in an action pursuant to this section may award equitable relief, including, but not limited to, an injunction, costs, and any other relief the court deems proper.” Source: California Civil Code section 1708.5 @ subsections, (b)and(c).
General damages are damages for physical pain and emotional suffering that occur as a result of a bodily or mental injury. Special damages include all out of pocket expenses including cost of rape trauma care and the present and future cost of psychiatric counseling and treatment. Punitive damages are imposed to punish the defendant for conduct that is deemed malicious or intended to cause harm and to deter similar future conduct. “Equitable damages” can include injunctions such as stay away orders.
What if the sexual assault or sex abuse happens in the workplace or in an institutional setting like a school, hospital, church, or community organization? Who is liable?
Very often, sexual abuse occurs in the workplace or in institutional settings like schools, churches, hospitals or community organizations like the Boys and Girls Scouts, or some similar group. This is because these settings allow for direct interaction between adults and children or they allow for intimate contact between an employee and the victim (such as a patient being sexually assaulted by an employee of a nursing home, hospital or medical facility). If the above elements can be proven, the assailant can obviously be held liable but, what about their employer? Here California Law provides that the employer may be found liable for a civil judgment if the employer was negligent in hiring, retaining or supervising the employee. (See California Civil Jury Instruction 426). This requires some conduct or information that would show by a "substantial factor" (i.e. "more likely than not") that the employer knew or should have known about the employees "unfitness" to perform their job. Such evidence is usually shown by something in the employee's background check or prior same or similar acts for which the employer either knew or "should have known."
While the above statute sets out pretty straightforward rules and legal remedies for sex assault victims, properly investigating and obtaining evidence to prove these elements is much more difficult. As I discuss in more detail in other posts, holding both the perpetrator and their employer (if possible) on the hook for payment of compensation may also requires additional proof of negligent hiring, supervision or retention or other legal theories of recovery. Significant time and resources are necessary to conduct a proper prosecution of a sexual assault and abuse claim. An experienced attorney at law who has a track record of success in proper legal processes for sex claims is essential to obtaining fair and adequate compensation for the victim.