Victims of childhood sexual abuse may face years of emotional problems caused by the abuse. Many develop serious mental disorders and substance abuse problems. Some who do not get help commit suicide. In many instances these victims can obtain funds to pay for therapy, as well as other monetary damages, by filing a lawsuit against those responsible for the abuse. These are civil lawsuits that are separate from any criminal prosecution of the abuser. In fact, an abuser can be sued even if no criminal charges were ever filed against him.
A direct lawsuit against the person who committed the acts of sexual abuse should be considered first. Unfortunately, most perpetrators are not wealthy, so that a court victory against such a person would be a waste of time. Therefore, in most States, recovering monetary damages for victims of abuse usually involves suing large institutional entities that are vicariously liable for the acts of the abuser. Vicarious liability is a legal phrase which means that a business, corporation or other entity is liable for wrongful acts committed by its agent or employee. For example, assume that John Smith is seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision caused by a driver of XYZ Moving Company. In such a case, John Smith would be able to sue XYZ Moving company, and would not have to rely on the limited wealth of truck driver.
Idaho is not one of the States that recognizes a right of recovery based on vicarious liability. This principal was re-stated in a 2007 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a lawsuit against the Grand Teton Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The Court interpreted section 2 of Idaho Statute 18-1501, which states:
“Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of such child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits such child to be placed in such situation that its person or health may be endangered.”
Under this statute, the Boy Scout Council would only be liable for damages if its directors or officers willfully permitted the child to be abused by a Scoutmaster or other volunteer.
Like every type of lawsuit, sex abuse lawsuits must be filed before the expiration of the statute of limitations or the case will be forever barred. As of this writing, Idaho statutes give minors additional time to file suit after reaching the age of minority (18). Even more time to file is given if there is a delay in the time at which the person recognizes the causal relation between the abuse committed and the psychological harm he is experiencing.
Because statute of limitations issues can be tricky in child abuse cases, it is important that victims and their families consult with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.