Victims of sexual abuse, particularly child sex abuse perpetrated by priests or other clergy members often spend their entire adult lives trying to come to grips with the abuse. For obvious reasons, victims of child molestation by priests often face incredible hardship on a spiritual and emotional level. While some contemplate seeking justice by filing civil lawsuits, many do nothing. Part of the reason is fear of the unknown, or simply not knowing what will happen and when. Below is a general discussion of how priest abuse lawsuits are handled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
A civil lawsuit in a priest or clergy sexual abuse case in Pennsylvania or New Jersey is very different than any criminal case against the perpetrator. The laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey specify that a victim of sex abuse may recover monetary compensation for the abuse and the deep psychological pain caused by the abuse. In addition, any person or business entity which knew of or suspected the abuse may be sued. The civil case is entirely independent of any criminal case or criminal investigation, meaning that the civil case can be brought regardless of whether there was a criminal case.
In child molestation cases involving priests, civil lawsuits involve filing claims against the perpetrators as well as the organizations responsible for them. These organizations often include non profit entities like youth organizations as well as churches and diocese organizations. Once the parties are located and identified, a pleading called a complaint will be filed with the local court. This document spells out all the allegations of abuse, the damages, and what relief or remedy the injured individual is seeking. Many victims of child molestation often want to know if their names can be kept private, and in most cases, private information like names, addresses, etc., can be shielded from the public documents.
Once the initial pleading is filed, the parties will be served with a copy, and the investigation or discovery phase of the case will begin. If there are preliminary issues to resolve, such as whether the statue of limitations bars the case, they will most likely be argued shortly after the case is filed. In the discovery phase, the parties will exchange information and evidence, such as documents, and the parties will depose witnesses and each other. In a priest abuse case, witnesses often include church employees, church officials and other individuals who may have experienced abuse themselves or otherwise seen or heard about it.
After the discovery phase is complete, the parties will prepare the case for trial or settlement. The vast majority of civil cases settle prior to trial. In fact, out of 10 civil cases, 9 will settle prior to trial. Pre-trial settlement depends on the strengths and weaknesses of each case.
For more information, access this legal article about what a priest abuse victim can expect in a civil case.
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Last updated: December 1, 2014