How Does Negligence Play a Role in Sexual Assault Cases?

Sexual assault is a criminal offense in California that can lead to a sentence such as jail time for a convicted offender. However, criminal charges are not the only form of justice a survivor of sexual assault can pursue. A survivor can also file a civil sexual assault lawsuit to hold the assailant legally and financially accountable. Many sexual assault cases are founded on the legal doctrine of negligence.

What Is the Legal Definition of Negligence?

Negligence is “the failure to met a standard of behavior to protect society against unreasonable risk”. It also is to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same circumstances.

Any act or omission that a reasonably prudent person would not have committed in the same situation can constitute negligence. If one person’s negligent or careless act or omission results in injury to another person, the negligent party can be held financially responsible (liable) for harm caused.

Negligence vs. Intentional Tort

A civil sexual assault case in California can be based on multiple legal principles, but the most common are negligence and intentional tort.

An intentional tort is a deliberate, intended or premeditated act of wrongdoing, such as a perpetrator knowingly touching the intimate part of another person without the victim’s consent. A civil claim filed on the grounds of intentional tort can hold a perpetrator civilly liable for causing harm to a victim.

However, a survivor of sexual assault may also be able to bring a claim against a third party on the grounds of negligence. A third party is someone who was not directly involved in a situation but may have contributed. For example, if sexual assault occurred on someone else’s property, such as a hotel, apartment building or business, the property owner could face liability for negligently failing to take security measures to protect guests.

Various institutions and organizations could face civil liability for sexual assault through negligence claims. Examples include schools, sports organizations, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, religious institutions, businesses, employers, health care providers, foster homes, nursing homes, and the government. Any party that fell short of its duty of reasonable care in connection to a sexual assault crime could be held liable in the civil justice system.

Proving Negligence in a Sexual Assault Case

The burden of proof in a civil sexual assault case is lower than in a criminal case. Rather than having to prove that a defendant is guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the civil justice system requires a preponderance of the evidence, or enough to show that the defendant is more likely to be responsible for the victim’s injuries than not.

Proving negligence requires clear and convincing evidence of four elements:

  1. Duty of care: the defendant had a legal obligation to act in a way that does not cause harm to others.
  2. Breach of duty: the defendant committed an act or omission that violated the duty of care.
  3. Causation: a causal connection exists between the defendant’s breach of duty and the victim’s injuries or losses.
  4. Damages: the victim suffered specific and compensable losses suffered because of the breach of duty.

Even if the defendant named in a sexual assault or abuse lawsuit did not cause the victim’s harm directly, he or she could be held civilly liable as the party responsible for failing to protect the victim. Evidence of negligence in a sexual assault lawsuit may include incident reports, witness statements, photographs and videos, prior sexual misconduct complaints against the defendant, and expert testimony.

For more information about establishing negligence in a sexual assault civil case in California, contact a sexual abuse lawyer in California at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi for a free and confidential case consultation.