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The harsh realities of civil sexual assault claims

Our law firm is approached by countless prospective clients regarding sexual assault claims.

The courage and strength the survivors have to step forward and speak with a personal injury lawyer about what they’ve been through is truly remarkable. I can’t begin to tell you about how difficult it can be for people to speak up and speak out about what they’ve been through. Even if all conversations with our lawyers and confidential, it still takes a lot for anyone to dig deep and recount to the events which have haunted their lives. Our hats off to all of the people who have opened up to us in the past; and continue to do so to this day. We appreciate the confidence and trust which you have put in out law firm to handle such meaningful and emotional claims.

We have been proud throughout the years to represent survivors of sexual assault in their claims against institutional defendants such as schools, hospitals and religious institutions. We have also been proud representing sexual assault survivors against various professionals such as doctors, dentists, teachers and religious figures.

Unfortunately, the law has a way of dehumanizing claims. The people who step forward to advance their claims are simply referred to as “The Plaintiff“; and the abuser is simply referred to as “The Defendant“. The law then takes the next step of examining one’s pain and suffering not but what a person may say on the stand; but by what’s contained in their medical, treatment or counselling records. If it’s not contained in the records, then it may not ring true in a Court of law.

When the Plaintiff has to give evidence, they have to tell their story of what happened. Their story will be tested by the lawyers for the Defendants.

This hurts. It’s demeaning, dehumanizing and really hard to do.

But there’s no way around it. This is how our legal system works. The Defendant gets to test everything which is said to ascertain the truth of the statement and the credibility of the person giving that statement. The injured party gets hurt all over again and there is no way around it other than being as strong as you can and telling the truth. There is no better way to counteract this, and to advance a sexual assault claim than by telling the truth.

The truth will come out at trial. And if misdeeds were done, they will be exposed. The Defendant(s) will have to pay for their crimes.

But where does the money come from?

Let’s say that a Judge orders a sexual predator Defendant to pay $1,000,000 in damages; how do you think a Defendant is going to pay for it?

If a Defendant is very wealthy, then it’s certainly possible. If a Defendant has secured assets (like property), then the Judgment can be tied to the property. The Plaintiff will get paid out of the proceeds of the sale of the property; whenever that may come to pass.linkedin-2-300x300

But in the majority of sexual assault cases, the Defendant is not wealthy or does not have any tangible assets.

That means that the Judgment for $1,000,000 is without any real monetary value if a Plaintiff cannot collect of the Judgment.

This is why the highest grossing sexual assaults cases we see where there is an actual realized value or settlement come when there is an institutional defendant involved. Having a sexual assault case vs. a random stranger off the street who rents an apartment and is living of ODSP won’t get a Plaintiff paid for their damages. But having a sexual assault case where the assault can be tied in to a Defendant’s employer, place or work or regulator is a completely different story when it comes to recovery.

And this is the cold hard truth about sexual assault cases. A Plaintiff may have a winning case; and may win a trial. A Judge may order a huge award in favour of the Plaintiff. But if a Defendant does not have the means to pay out on the Judgment, the award is without any real monetary value.

Many people want to know if a Defendant is then sent to jail because they cannot satisfy a Judgment against them.

The answer is “No“. You don’t go to jail if you don’t have enough money to pay out on a Judgment against you. The Defendant may never be able to work a job again because their wages will be garnished; or may never be able to hold property in their name because the property will be subject to a lien; and there may be collection agencies hounding the Defendant; but the Defendant will not go to jail for not having enough money to pay out on a Judgment against him or her.

Keep in mind the concept of going to jail in the criminal case is completely different than a civil case. Civil cases are about money. Criminal cases are about enforcing the laws of the land. The punishment for the crime can be jail time, or something else that the Judge sentences. The point is that in the criminal case, there are real consequences for the accused which may result in jail time. But in a civil case, the only remedy which a Judge can order is money. In a civil case a Judge cannot Order that the Defendant go to jail. A Judge cannot order that the Defendant hand over their home to the Plaintiff. A Judge cannot order that the Defendant serve you meals and clean your home for the rest of your life. All a Judge can do is order that the Defendant pay you damages ($). But if the Defendant does not have the money to pay out of the claim, that person will likely not be going to jail on account of their inability to pay out on a Judgment.

It’s very hard for an innocent survivor of abuse to hear these sort of things. It’s even harder to endure a trial (and in); only to find out months later that no award will be paid out because the Defendant doesn’t have any money. But these are the cold, hard truths of civil sexual assault cases which we all need to consider before advancing these cases.


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