A lot of times in child abuse and molestation cases, people contact a lawyer without really knowing what kind of lawyer they need, or really what their goal is. In the United States, there are two types of law: Civil and Criminal. They are very different systems of justice, and if you have been harmed, it is important to understand them. The criminal justice system seeks to punish a perpetrator, usually by jail or prison time, but possibly also by probation or community service. A civil lawsuit is much different. It seeks to recover monetary compensation for the victim. Criminal cases are filed by the government, and usually start when the victim reports the crime (calling 911 or filing a police report). Civil cases are filed by a private party, typically by their attorney. Estey Bomberger has made an infographic explaining the core differences between these two types of law. It is below. For more information, visit http://www.childmolestationvictims.com/.
The Differences Between Civil and Criminal Law – A resource by the team at ChildMolestationVictim.com
I saw a post on Facebook today about things I never learned in high school (see image). It’s true, in high school we don’t really learn what taxes are, how to file them, how to vote, how to write a resume, anything to do with banking, applying for a loan, or buying a car or house. Another thing that instantly came to mind, is the civil justice system. So many people don’t understand civil law vs. criminal law, and statutes of limitations, and why they’re so important. This should be taught in high school.
The wonderful law firm I work for, Estey Bomberger, specializes in institutional childhood sex abuse cases, civil cases where children are harmed by people in institutions (think schools, churches, dioceses, Boy Scouts, foster agencies, etc). Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children is pretty common. People who work in schools and churches have easy access to children that are taught and instructed to respect and obey them. As a parent to a young daughter, it is something I will be paying close attention to, and when it’s appropriate in a few years, talking to her. Side note, here is a great article about how to talk with your children about sexual abuse.
I am very proud of the work that our attorneys do for child molestation victims – not just our clients but children in schools, churches and the foster system really are safer because of it, and I’ve seen firsthand the very grateful families that we have been able to help. Our work has brought real changes to private and public institutions, changes that make our children safer.
Along with moderating the comments on our blog and website, I have seen hundreds of inquiries come through to our firm from people who have suffered horrific abuse that has caused devastating heartbreak. Unfortunately, in many situations we are simply unable to help with a civil case because the statute of limitations has expired. I’ve seen inquiries from people who were abused by a teacher or priest in the 70’s or 80’s and just now want to pursue a lawsuit. It make me sad that we simply can’t help them – no attorney can help them. It’s just too late.
From working in the legal industry, I know what a statute of limitations is. But surprisingly, many people have no idea that if they suffer some kind of injustice, for which they would like to pursue damages (money), they need to do it within a certain period of time from the date of occurrence. This time period is set by statute, which is why it’s called a statute of limitations Almost every state has a basic suspension of the statute of limitation for civil actions while the person is a minor – this is known as a “tolling”. There are also extensions in some states for cases specifically involving sexual abuse of children. It gets even more complicated when the defendant is a government entity – most often, a school district.
Our state senator Jim Beall has been trying to change the law in California. He has pushed two civil damages bills (Senate bill SB 131 in 2013 and Senate Bill 924 this year). In September, our current governor vetoed Beall’s childhood sex abuse lawsuit bill, just like he did the prior year. This year, he did increase the criminal statute of limitations, but vetoed legislation to give victims more time to seek civil damages against third parties. Brown said, ““There needs to be a compelling reason to lengthen the statute of limitations for civil claims against third parties. I do not see evidence of that here.” You can read more about Brown’s veto in the Sacramento Bee.
I personally feel there is plenty of compelling evidence / reasons to lengthen the statute of limitations and that anyone who puts profits over the safety of our children needs to be held accountable, no matter how long it has been. Unfortunately, Jim Brown has been reelected for another term. Hopefully, in the future, this will be revisited.