Looking at California Civil Sexual Abuse Claims After State Supreme Court Denies Bid to Overturn Decision in Cosby Case

To many, he represented the perfect father, loving his kids, his wife, and his work while solving every problem in 30 minutes flat.  However, recently the portrait presented by Bill Cosby in his television show and throughout his long career has taken a series of hits.  In this post, our San Francisco abuse victims’ law firm looks at a recent legal development in the Cosby saga and calls attention to California law on civil suits for sexual abuse.  We do not know whether Cosby is guilty, but we do know far too many young men and young women are victims of sexual abuse.  For these individuals, a civil sexual abuse lawsuit can provide critical emotional closure and also provide money damages that can be put towards psychological and other social services that can turn a victim into a survivor.

State Supreme Court Refuses to Upset Lower Court’s Ruling, Allows Suit to Proceed

helpLast month, Reuters announced that comedian Bill Cosby lost a bid to avoid a lawsuit based on allegations he sexually abused a 15 year-old in 1974.  The woman, now in her 50s and referred to herein as J.H., is one of more than 40 women who have accused the actor of rape or molestation.  Her lawsuit is one of at least four civil actions currently pending.  This case is, however, unique in that it seeks damages for the claimed assault itself while the other women are pursuing defamation actions saying Cosby falsely painted them as liars when he denied claimed assaults.

Cosby attempted to have the claims brought by J.H. tossed on procedural grounds.  Among other things, his attorneys said the case lacked a required certification and that the woman only brought the claim after Cosby refused to pay for her silence.  However, the trial court ruled against him and the appeals court and the California Supreme Court refused to alter that decision.  The accuser’s lawyer said she expects to take Cosby’s deposition within a month of the ruling.  Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges based on J.H.’s allegations saying the statute of limitations for those had expired.  The woman’s attorney in the civil matter suggests the statute is more forgiving when it comes to civil claims of child sex abuse.  Cosby denies the charges.

California Civil Sexual Assault Laws

California Civil Code 1708.5 addresses civil sexual battery.  Subsection (a) defines sexual battery as intentionally causing harmful or offensive contact with the other person’s intimate parts or the wrongdoer intentionally causing harmful or offensive contact between the other person and his/her own intimate parts.   In either case, the contact must result in a sexually offensive contact.  Sexual battery can also involve the imminent apprehension of either form of conduct that leads to sexually offensive contact.

Subsection (f) defines “offensive contact” as that which “offends a reasonable sense of personal dignity.”  Civil Code 1708.5(b) provides that a person who commits sexual battery is liable for damages including special damages (out-of-pocket expenses, perhaps medical treatment after a rough assault) and general damages (money for pain and suffering) as well as punitive damages which are designed to punish the wrongdoer and are only available in limited cases.

Of particular importance in the J.H. case discussed above is California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.1.  This section provides a general statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases is the later of either: 1) Eight years from the time the victim reaches the age of majority (age 26) or 2) three years from the time an adult discovers or should have discovered he/she was impacted by child sexual abuse.

A Caring Firm Empowering Survivors

As a San Francisco law firm for sexual abuse victims, we use the civil law to help victims move forward after the unthinkable happens.  We can help those who suffered sexual abuse as children as well as adult sexual assault victims.  A civil action can give back a stolen sense of control and can provide money that allows the survivor to prosper despite the terrible wrongs done to him/her.

See Related Blog Posts:

Empowerment and Prevention: Twin Goals in Civil Cases Following On-Campus Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault of Minors: the Ultimate Abuse of Power