The scope and nature of damages in childhood sexual abuse cases brought against institutional and other defendants is broader than one might expect.
Some of the damages caused by childhood sexual abuse have long been recognize — horrific physical violation and a lifetime of feelings of terrible shame, guilt and secrecy that can permeate every aspect of an abused person’s life.
Other aspects of damages, however, are not as well known. There are strong correlations, detailed in the medical literature, between childhood sexual abuse and the development of bipolar syndrome; the development of issues with authority figures, potentially leading to future legal problems, incarceration or work-related issues with bosses/supervisors; the development of substance abuse problems and suicidal intent; the development of school-related academic and discipline problems; and the subsequent inability to form strong, lasting or emotionally satisfying emotional bonds with parents, children, spouses and significant others. All of these may be significant components of a damage award. Moreover, since child sexual abuse occurs, by definition, at an early age, the damage can last for upwards of 70 or more years. This can be devastating to the victims — direct and indirect — of childhood sexual abuse. It can also be exceedingly costly to defendants.
In addition to compensatory damage awards, punitive damages are potentially available if a claim for recklessness is pursued successfully. In Connecticut, punitive damages are limited to the amount of attorneys’ fees and litigation costs awarded.
The Offer of Compromise statute can add materially to a damage award. Pursuant to Section 52-192a(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes, if the plaintiff files an Offer of Compromise within 18 months of the commencement of the action, and the defendant rejects that Offer of Compromise, and the plaintiff then goes on to recover an amount equal to or greater than the amount of the Offer to Compromise, then the plaintiff will be entitled to 8% interest per annum on the compensatory amount recovered, computed from the date the Complaint was filed to the date of judgment. Prejudgment Offer of Compromise interest can also be applied to the amount of punitive damages/attorneys’ fees and costs awarded at a rate of 8% per year, calculated from the date the Complaint was filed until the date of entry of judgment.
Additionally, Connecticut General Statutes §37-3b provides that for causes of action arising on or after May 27, 1997, a plaintiff is also entitled to post-judgment interest on the amount of the compensatory damages judgment of a negligence action at the rate of 10% per year, starting 20 days after the date of judgment. (For causes of action arising before May 27, 1997, the award of post-judgment interest is discretionary with the Court and permits an award of up to 10%. Connecticut General Statutes §37-3a). A plaintiff would also be entitled to post-judgment interest at the rate of 10% per year on the full amount of the punitive damages judgment, starting on the date of the judgment.
All told, damages for the sexual abuse of a child can add up quickly to significant amounts. If the enormity of the harm done to children is not enough to deter a potential defendant, then the extensive financial exposure a defendant may face should serve as a powerful financial incentive for institutions to take reasonable steps to keep children participating in their programs safe from sexual predators.