In South Carolina, our criminal court system is responsible for punishing sex offenders with prison time and other penalties. Our civil system is designed to hold wrongdoers accountable financially, while in turn compensating the people they hurt. Sexual assault is among the most heinous crimes a person can commit. When it happens, the perpetrator needs to go to prison, and anyone who contributed or allowed the assault to occur, must be held responsible not only criminally, but in our civil courts as well.
Civil lawsuits are based on what the law calls "damages." South Carolina includes medical expenses, mental anguish, physical pain, lost earnings, and lost enjoyment of life among the damages that a person who has been sexually violated may recover. There is certainly no amount of money that can undo the harm. However, it is often essential that criminals pay for what has happened to lessen the chance of them doing it again. In some instances, the perpetrators' insurance company (e.g. homeowners' insurer) will be required to compensate the victim. Additionally, there are times when schools, businesses, or even government institutions are civilly liable for a sexual assault. For example, if a school hired a sex offender or a business chose not to report repeated acts of harassment by an employee, and that person went on to violate another person sexually, the school or business could be legally responsible for its negligent hiring or retention of a known predator.
It is important to note that the outcome of the criminal case has no bearing on the civil action. South Carolina has different standards of proof in civil and criminal courts. Therefore, a dismissal of the criminal charges or a verdict of "not guilty" in no way prevents you from pursuing a civil action. Predators, along with all other persons or entities who created an environment where sexual assault could occur, must provide full compensation for every way in which they have harmed another human being. That means placing what was done and what the victim has experienced on one side of the scale, and then placing enough money on the other side of the scale to say justice was done. That is, and should be, a large number, though never large enough.
While most civil lawsuits arising from sexual crimes settle short of trial, some do not. Either way, my job is to lead people who have been violated, as well as their families, through our civil system and toward justice. In some cases, we also work closely with the solicitor's office to make sure everything that needs to be done is done in the criminal prosecution. To schedule a free, confidential meeting, simply contact my Columbia, SC office at 803-790-2800. We have helped sexual assault victims in the past, and would be honored to assist you as well.