What is a civil lawsuit?

A civil lawsuit is different than a criminal case. In a civil lawsuit, you bring the case with the help of your own lawyer; the police and prosecutor are not involved. At the end of the lawsuit, if you are successful, money is usually the only kind of compensation you can get. While money cannot necessarily make up for what happened to you, it may make up for some of the costs you suffered after the assault.

Who do I bring the case against when I file a civil lawsuit?

You can sue the perpetrator of the sexual assault. Sometimes, someone else besides the perpetrator may also be at fault for doing something that allowed you to be sexually assaulted. For example, if your college had been informed that the person who sexually assaulted you had also assaulted other people, it is possible that a court would find them responsible for what happened to you. In that case, you could bring a lawsuit against that other third party, and if you succeed, a court could order that third party to give you money to compensate you for the assault.

What is the time limit for bringing a civil lawsuit?

There is a time limit, called a “statute of limitations,” in which you have to bring the lawsuit after the sexual assault. In Washington, the time limit is usually three years from the time of the assault. If you wait longer than that, you will probably not be able to bring a civil lawsuit. There are exceptions, so you should talk to an attorney about your situation.

What are the kinds of legal claims I would make in a civil lawsuit?

It is hard to answer that question in a general way. But survivors of sexual assault have brought successful lawsuits against perpetrators for assault, battery, or infliction of emotional distress, among other things. These are all different kinds of legal claims. Filing a civil lawsuit would be very hard to do without a lawyer to help determine what kinds of claims you have, how you would prove them, and what kind of relief you can ask for in the lawsuit.

Can I file a civil lawsuit without a lawyer?

Filing the lawsuit without the help of a lawyer would be very difficult. To find a lawyer, see the Legal Voice publication, How to Find a Lawyer, and review the Get Help section of this website.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Money Damages

Being a victim of a sexual assault may mean having to move to new housing. It may mean leaving school, leaving a job, or getting counseling. It may mean that you have medical expenses for physical injuries. It may mean you take a break from school. All of those things may cause you to lose income or spend money you wouldn’t have had to spend otherwise.


A civil lawsuit may be a way to get compensation for what happened to you.