Filing a sexual assault lawsuit is the first step for many in seeking justice for what happened to them. While the criminal justice system and the police might help victims seek justice in some respects, compensation for your injuries and focus on you as the victim is often available in the civil courts. The Queenan Law Firm’s Arlington sexual assault victim attorneys explain the process of how survivors of sexual assault can file their claims and seek financial compensation and justice in Texas.
How Do You File a Sexual Assault Claim in Texas?
Texas law recognizes a “cause of action” for sexual assault. This means that, regardless of any criminal statutes, you can file a civil claim against the assailant to seek financial compensation. Filing a civil claim is separate from a criminal case and often focuses more on justice for the victim (the “plaintiff”) instead of punishment for the assailant (the “defendant”).
Filing a civil lawsuit happens in civil court. The physical courthouse is usually the same as the criminal courthouse, but the case is filed to go to a different department. Even if police have contacted you about the case and pressed charges, you can still file a separate civil case against the same defendant, which has a lower burden of proof and is often more lenient toward victims. Your sexual assault victim attorney can help you determine when to file and whether you should wait until the criminal case is resolved first before filing your civil claim.
The actual process of filing the claim at the courthouse is somewhat straightforward, but it includes complex legal documents. To file the case, the plaintiff prepares a “complaint” and files it with the court, filling out any necessary paperwork at the courthouse and paying any fees they cannot roll over to the end of the case. When you file the paperwork with the court, you will also need to “serve” the defendant with their paperwork. This means having properly certified or authorized individuals – likely a sheriff or constable – deliver a copy of the complaint to the defendant.
Once the claim is filed, the case can move forward through the court process.
Writing a Complaint for a Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Assault in Texas
The complaint you file with the court will lay out the details of what happened to you, who is at fault for the injuries and harm you faced, and what damages you faced. This document is an important legal document because it is the foundation of your whole case. This document is typically written by an attorney, and our sexual assault victim attorneys can help by drafting this document.
The complaint should clearly explain what happened to you, including details that may be painful to recount. Our Houston lawyers to represent sexual abuse victims can write the details in the proper wording to explain to the court how the facts of what happened to you violated your rights and broke the law. Using the right legal language can help build a strong claim so that the case can progress forward.
As part of the claim, we will have to explain who caused your injuries and what evidence you have to identify the defendant. If you have other witnesses or evidence, that information could be cited in the initial complaint.
The complaint will also lay out what damages you are claiming in your case. This means you should speak with a lawyer and determine what damages you can claim before submitting the paperwork with the court. The damages in your case can include things like medical bills to treat any injuries, therapy bills to deal with post-traumatic stress and other effects of the assault, and damages for the pain and suffering you endured.
If the complaint does not lay out the facts of your case adequately, the defendant will ask the court to throw the case out. This can be the end of your claim in some cases, but many judges will allow complaints to be revised or re-filed if there are errors. Talk to a Dallas lawyer to represent sexual abuse victims about this process.
What is the Deadline to File a Sexual Assault Claim in Texas?
In order for your lawsuit to be accepted and move on to trial, it needs to be filed on time. Texas law has “statutes of limitations” that dictate how long a victim has from the date of the assault or injury to file their case in court. The deadline to file your case will change depending on whether you were an adult or a minor when the assault took place. Coming forward about sexual assault is often very difficult, so these statutes of limitations often give victims more time than the statutes of limitations for other injury cases. However, you must talk to an attorney and move quickly as soon as you decide to file a lawsuit to avoid having it time-barred.
Under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.0045(b), most instances of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault have a 5-year statute of limitations. This means that adult victims often have until 5 years from the date of the assault to file their claim and have it heard in court. Victims suffering from acute mental illness at the time of the assault often have longer deadlines.
If you were a minor, then § 16.0045(a) often gives you 30 years to file your case. In addition, this 30-year limitations period usually does not start running until you turn 18. This means that, in practice, childhood sexual assault victims often have until they turn 48 to file their claim.
These laws are the current laws on the books for new sexual assault claims. If your sexual assault case occurred before September 1, 2019 and you were a minor, then you might have only 15 years from your 18th birthday instead. These laws have changed over the years for adults and minors, and your lawyer can help you understand what version of the statute of limitations applies to your case based on which law was in effect when the assault took place.
Call Our Texas Sexual Assault Victim’s Attorneys for Help Filing Your Case
If you were sexually assaulted in Texas, our Arlington personal injury lawyers can help you take your case to court where you can seek financial compensation from your assailant and seek justice for what happened to you. The Queenan Law Firm offers free, confidential legal consultations where you can learn more about our services and how we can help file and fight your case in the courts. To set up your free case consultation, call us today at (817) 476-1797.