Statue of lady justice with scales and a sword behind a gavel in a courtroom

Sexual assault in Texas is defined in the criminal code, but instances can be punished by both criminal proceedings and a civil lawsuit. In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the government, and the punishment can include imprisonment and criminal fines. In a civil case, the plaintiff is the victim, and the punishment is money for civil damages.

Criminal prosecution is an important step to keep perpetrators from repeating their crimes. A civil lawsuit, however, is what permits the victim to be compensated by the perpetrator or other liable parties. While the procedures are separate, one can impact the other. If you are a victim, a Dallas sexual assault victim lawyer can help you understand your legal rights.

Relationship between criminal and civil Texas sexual assault cases

The same abusive action can result in both criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit. A prosecutor works with law enforcement to prosecute an offender while a victim hires a private attorney to bring a civil action. These two teams are independent of each other, but their work affects the other proceeding.

Criminal vs Civil burden of proof

Criminal prosecutions have a higher burden of proof than a lawsuit. The criminal prosecutor needs to show that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in a lawsuit, the plaintiff only needs to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the acts alleged.

If a prosecution and conviction happen before a lawsuit, it can help the lawsuit. The defendant will then have already been found to be at fault by a higher standard than that applied in the lawsuit. However, if the accused is found not guilty in a criminal trial, the civil lawsuit can still go forward, and the victim can win because the burden of proof is lower.

Statutes of limitations in TX sexual assault cases

Both criminal and civil actions are subject to statutes of limitations. Cases that are not initiated within the statute of limitations period are forever barred from going forward.

The criminal statute of limitations is complicated and depends heavily on the age of the victim and specifics of the alleged assault. It can range from 20 years to unlimited time.

The Texas statute of limitations for civil cases based on sexual assault is 30 years (beginning when the victim turns 18 if he or she was a minor at the time). Statutes of limitations are surprisingly complicated but very important, so if you were involved in a sexual assault, speak with a Dallas personal injury attorney to find out what filing deadline applies in your case.

Benefits of a civil sexual assault lawsuit

Criminal prosecution may put the perpetrator behind bars and create a criminal record of their actions. However, it does not necessarily benefit you personally; the prosecutor may enter a plea bargain to speed things along, and you will not have a say in how the case is concluded.

A civil lawsuit, on the other hand, provides an avenue to address the effects that the assault had on you as an individual. It can lead to an order for the defendant to pay for your medical bills, including therapy costs, lost wages, relocation, and even damages for pain and suffering.

Who may be civilly liable for sexual assault

The person who committed the assault may not be the only party liable for the violation. For example, if the assault happened on someone else’s property or by a business’s on-duty employee, another person or business might be liable.

Some examples of third parties who have been ordered to pay compensation for an assault include:

  • A temp agency that did not perform a complete background check on a new employee
  • A caregiver who failed to prevent abuse
  • An apartment complex lacking or prohibiting safety precautions
  • A property owner with knowledge of other physical assaults that did not take measures to prevent further attacks

It is important to talk with a personal injury lawyer who can review the facts of your case with a trained eye. It is not always obvious who may be liable for an assault, but a skilled lawyer can make that determination.

What to do after a sexual assault

If you have been the victim of a sexual assault in Texas, it is critical to go to a hospital as soon as possible for an exam by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). A SANE is a specially-trained nurse who can testify in court. It is not necessary to make a final decision about whether to pursue criminal charges or a civil lawsuit; you can obtain a SANE exam even without reporting the case, and it is important to do so.

At such a trying time, it helps to put your trust in a compassionate and experienced lawyer. The experienced sexual assault victim lawyers at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP, are caring and confident advocates committed to winning justice for survivors of sexual assault. Call today to schedule a free consultation.