Sexual Abuse Claims: Understanding Your Options As A Survivor

Sexual Abuse Claims: Understanding Your Options As A Survivor

Legal Considerations When You’ve Been the Victim of Sexual Abuse

The courage to come forward 

An ex-boyfriend breaks into a bedroom.  A Grey County priest makes an unwanted visit.  A stepfather destroys a childhood.  A manager at a Collingwood factory has his way with an employee.  A Bruce County physician grooms a patient.  An uncle down Shelburne way shatters the youth of his nephew.

These are but a handful of the sexual abuse lawsuit cases which our firm has handled.  

We are committed to all our clients, of course.  But we don’t mind saying that there is a special place in our office for the survivors of sexual abuse.

It takes a special level of courage, a special level of insight to come forward.  Most want compensation, that only makes sense.  But most also seek vindication.  They seek a law firm which believes them, a lawyer who will take it to their abuser – or the people who enabled that abuse.

Some are after something called closure.  To be honest, I am not a big believer in that.  I don’t think you ever close the book on this sort of thing.  But I am a believer in empowerment.   And that is something we deliver on for our clients.  We take the most vulnerable and we allow them to stand up and be counted.  And after over 30 years of taking on these claims, I have learned that being counted against means a lot.  

If you have been thinking for a while about doing something, call or email me and we can have a conversation. It may just change your life. 


Does a lawsuit make sense?

Most lawsuits are resolved without a trial.  But even so, litigation takes time and effort.  No one wants to go through a lawsuit unless it is worth her or his while.   So, will a lawsuit in fact be worth the investment?  

To answer this question, we consider three things:  (1) You, (2) the defendant(s) and (3) the abuse itself.

  1. First, we have a long conversation with you.  We need to make sure that you have the emotional stamina to answer questions about the abuse; we need to make sure that overall, your memories are solid and cannot be shaken.  No one has perfect recall, of course, but we need a consistent, believable account of what happened.    
  2. Second, we look at any and all possible defendants.  Is the perpetrator alive?  Does he have real assets (he will not be able to pay for any settlement out of insurance)?  If he has no assets for us to chase, can we fault an institution for the abuse?  The Children’s Aid Society, a prison, a school board, a church?   We have claimed against all such organizations in the past.   Only if we can sue a defendant with enough assets to cover a settlement or court award does it make sense to sue. 
  3. Third, we look at the acts of abuse itself.  Some abuse may amount to sexual harassment and not actual sexual assault.  It is still serious but the fact is that if a court will consider the abuse to be on the very lightest end of the spectrum, it most likely does not make sense to sue, since the compensation will be so minor.

Once we give the green light to your case, we will be with you every step of the way.  No fee of any kind unless and until we collect compensation. Find out more about our commitment to remaining affordable.


When will an organization be found responsible?

Where possible, we will sue an employer, a church or some other institution for the abuse you suffered.  

Why?  Two reasons.  

  1. First, I find that survivors want to hold such defendants accountable.  If a Simcoe County area church or the CAS or an Orangeville employer did not do everything it could to prevent the abuse, it is not right that they get off the hook.  
  2. Second, the person who did the abuse often has no assets; for a lawsuit to make sense, there has to be a very real shot at a financial recovery.  Large institutional defendants have assets.

Is it always possible to sue an “institutional defendant”?  No.  You need to prove one of two things:

First, was the defendant negligent?  For example, if a Grey Bruce school board knew that the teacher had a record of abuse and allowed him to chaperone field trips, that school board is in deep trouble.    If the church knew that there were complaints against a priest from other parents and did nothing, that church is negligent and may be sued.

Second, if we cannot prove negligence, it is often possible still possible to prove that the defendant was “vicariously” (automatically) liable for the abuse.  

Let me unpack this.  

If abuse happens at night in a boarding school dormitory, that school will be liable for the teacher’s abuse, since the risk of abuse in that particular job or context is so high.  But if a woman is assaulted by an electrician in her Owen Sound or Collingwood home, the owner of the company will not be automatically liable, since the expected level of risk is not there – there is nothing in the business of being an electrician which creates the risk of sexual abuse.  

Along the same lines, the Ontario Court of Appeal tossed out a case against a taxi company where a driver sexually abused a customer; the court ruled that a cab is to transport people around town with the customer in the back seat; there is nothing in that business which enhances the risk of abuse.


What kinds of compensation might I expect?

Good and fair question.  

  1. To begin with, we pursue payment of pain and suffering damages.  When I first started practice years ago, these numbers were very low.  Almost an insult.  The courts have since learned to appreciate the life long devastation which even one sexual assault can cause.  Result?  The compensation levels for pain and suffering are rising, sometimes to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  2. Second, you deserve the best counselling and psychological therapy you can obtain.  So we demand compensation for future treatment as well – as much as needed.  If Collingwood or Port Elgin or Owen Sound do not have the proper counselling, we make sure we obtain it for you from larger centres.
  3. Third, in the right case we pursue past and future income loss.  Survivors of abuse, particularly childhood abuse, are often shattered for years.  They drop out of school, they underachieve in university, they inexplicably quit jobs.  We retain accountants and other experts to prove your lifelong loss of income.  These numbers can be massive.

Again, if we take on your case, we commit to building up the largest claim possible, tailored to your life experience.