Loretta Merritt discusses whether it is worth it to sue or not
in a sexual assault case as part of the Torkin Manes LegalPoint
The decision of whether it is worthwhile to sue can only be made
on a case by case basis by the abuse survivor in consultation with
their lawyer. There are time limits for suing, but most
jurisdictions in Canada, including Ontario, have lots of special
rules and exceptions for abuse cases. Rarely do I turn down a
case because of the time it has taken for the survivor to come
forward. Coming forward can be very difficult and the courts
understand this. Similarly there are protections for
survivors who don't want to go public or see their names in the
newspaper. Sometimes we uses pseudonyms like Jane Doe, so the
survivor's identity stays confidential. There are many
special rules the courts apply in sexual assault cases. Of
course, there are no guarantees that a civil lawsuit will be won,
but with the help of a lawyer, a survivor can weigh the likelihood
of a successful outcome and assess the strength of the case against
the difficulty of going through the legal process.
One of the things to consider is what damages might be
awarded. The trend in the courts seems to be a rise in
the number of large damages awarded, especially in cases of ongoing
abuse occurring over a period of years. Generally, the
factors that courts look at in awarding general damages for pain
and suffering are the nature of the acts, the duration of the
abuse, the relationship between the perpetrator and the plaintiff,
including any breach of trust, the age and vulnerability of the
plaintiff and the impact on the survivor's life,
including education and career. General damages can range
from a few thousand dollars for a single offence by a stranger to
$250,000.00 or more for the most serious abuse cases. Survivors can
also be awarded damages to cover the cost of past or future therapy
and in some cases economic losses as well.
It's important to remember that most cases don't end up
in a trial. Rather they are settled out of court. However the
amount of the settlement depends on the strength of the
In my experience, for most survivors, civil lawsuits are not
just about the money. Rather, survivors bring lawsuits in
order to achieve goals which have nothing to do with money.
Goals such as standing up for themselves, being heard, holding
people to account, healing, justice, making sure others do not get
assaulted, and closure.
The Sexual Assault team at Torkin Manes understands these goals
and will work with you to achieve them.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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