Parents often want nothing more than for their children to grow up safe and healthy. There are few things that frighten parents as much as the danger of child molestation and sexual assault. Attorney Pittman is a loving father, and many other members of our team are also proud, dedicated parents. Our Panama City child sexual assault law firm understands how difficult it can be to discuss these issues.
We also understand the importance of punishing those who take advantage of minors and helping the survivors cope with the events. The criminal system helps punish offenders; the civil system, our side of the legal arena, focuses on helping the survivor.
Last Friday, as reported by the News Herald, the Walton County Sheriff's Office arrested 48-year-old Brian Keith Weeks on allegations that he molested a minor. The DeFuniak Springs man has a prior felony conviction, the details of which are not specified in the article. Investigators served a search warrant at a Petty Lane residence and report finding evidence relating to the charges as well as several firearms. Charges against Weeks include lewd and lascivious molestation, lewd and lascivious battery, in addition to possession of firearms by a felon. All of the current charges are second-degree felonies.
As we have noted in the context of other forms of personal injury, civil cases can exist whether or not the authorities file a criminal case on the same set of facts. While criminal convictions require proof beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e. over 99% certainty the defendant committed the act), civil claims only require a preponderance of evidence (i.e. 51%). Proof of child sexual abuse can include: the child's own testimony; medical evidence (ex. pictures of injuries and testimony of treating physicians); expert psychological testimony (ex. may combine with testimony about the child's behavior to note that it fits with the way children often respond following abuse); and witness testimony.
The litigation process can be tough on any victim. Courts have various methods they can use to help protect young witnesses from being re-traumatized in the process of the suit. In some cases, there may be physical evidence including DNA or photographs/video recordings.
Florida provides a special statute of limitation for abuse claims, especially those involving children. Generally, a suit must be filed within 7 years after the victim reaches the age of majority or within 4 years from the time the victim stops being dependent on the abuser, whichever is later. When an adult only discovers childhood abuse at a later point (i.e. they repressed the abuse), the statute allows 4 years from the time of that discovery.
Civil sexual abuse lawsuits focus on awarding abuse victims financial compensation for the injuries inflicted by the abuser, including physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Damages may focus on medical bills, therapy costs, and the more intangible impact on the victim's ability to live a normal, healthy life. In some cases, particularly when the defendant abuser lacks the assets to cover a judgment, victims may be able to obtain a writ of garnishment, allowing the victims to take a portion of the defendant's paycheck until the damages have been paid.
In addition to the money damages, a successful suit can provide the victim with a sense of justice. Telling their story in court and having a judge or jury rule in their favor can also provide a sense of empowerment. Additionally, the legal case can help bring closure to the period of abuse. While abuse haunts victims for life, the civil suit can help the victim move forward to a period of recovery.
If your child has been the victim of sexual assault in Panama City or the surrounding regions, we can help. Call to arrange a free consultation with our Panama City victims' lawyer.