If you are the victim of sexual assault in Nevada, you may be able to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator for battery, false imprisonment, and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress in Nevada
- medical bills in Nevada,
- lost wages in Nevada,
- loss of future earnings in Nevada, and/or
- pain and suffering in Nevada
Victims can also pursue punitive damages against the defendant, which can be far larger than the compensatory damages.
There is no statute of limitations in Nevada to file a civil lawsuit for injuries stemming from sexual assault of an adult victim. Meanwhile, child victims have 20 years to file a claim after they turn 18 or learn that the assault caused their injuries (whichever is later).
In this article, our Nevada personal injury attorneys discuss how victims of sexual assault can sue in Nevada. Click on a topic below to jump to that section.
- 1. Whom to sue
- 2. What to sue for
- 3. When to sue
- 4. Damages (including punitive)
- 5. Burden of proof
- 6. Defenses
- 7. Filing criminal charges
- 8. Help for victims
Sexual assault victims can sue the people who physically raped them. But in addition, victims may be able to sue anyone else whose wrongdoings may have allowed the assault to occur.
Example: Leah lives in a dorm at UNLV. One day the lock to her door breaks. She informs Res-Life right away and repeatedly asks them to fix it, but they never do. One night a vagrant enters Leah’s room and sexually assaults her. Leah could sue UNLV for negligence for failing to fix her lock, which made her vulnerable to being physically harmed.
Certainly, Leah, in the above example, could also sue the vagrant. But chances are, UNLV has much deeper pockets and could pay a much higher settlement.
Nevada civil law does not have a specific “sexual assault” or “rape” cause of action. Instead, there are various civil wrongs (called “torts”) that rape victims may sue for. Four common assault-related causes of action in Nevada are:
- false imprisonment
- intentional infliction of emotional distress
Battery is a broad civil cause of action that comprises any type of illegal physical touching. Plaintiffs have to prove the following four elements in order to prevail on a battery claim:
- The defendant willfully and unlawfully used physical force or violence on the plaintiff;
- The defendant intended to cause harmful or offensive contact;
- The harmful and offense contact did in fact occur; and
- The harmful and offense contact caused the plaintiff’s damages.1
One benefit of suing for battery is that the plaintiff does not have to show that the defendant physically penetrated him/her. All the plaintiff needs to show is that unlawful physical touching occurred, which can include such actions as holding down, choking, or groping.
Like it sounds, false imprisonment is physically trapping someone. Specifically, plaintiffs have to prove the following four elements in order to prevail on a false imprisonment claim.
- The defendant acted with the intention of confining the plaintiff within boundaries fixed by the defendant;
- The plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, which violated the plaintiff’s right to be free from restraint of movement;
- The plaintiff was conscious of the confinement or was harmed by the confinement; and
- The confinement caused the plaintiff’s damages.2
Since rape victims are presumably physically restrained during the attack, they can sue for false imprisonment as well as battery.
It is self-evident that sexual assault causes not only physical harm but also mental harm. Plaintiffs have to prove the following three elements in order to prevail on a claim of “intentional infliction of emotional distress”:
- The defendant acted with extreme and outrageous conduct with either the intention of — or reckless disregard for — causing emotional distress;
- The plaintiff suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and
- The defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s emotional distress.3
Note that “intentional infliction of emotional distress” is often abbreviated IIED. It is also called the “tort of outrage.”
As discussed above in section 1, rape victims may have a negligence lawsuit against anyone whose actions (or lack of action) allowed the rape to occur. Plaintiffs have to prove the following four elements in order to prevail on a claim of negligence:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
- The defendant breached that duty;
- The breach was the legal cause of plaintiff’s injuries; and
- The plaintiff suffered damages.4
When suing for negligence, the plaintiff never needs to show that the defendant purposely put the plaintiff in harm’s way. Instead, the plaintiff just needs to show that the defendant failed to behave how a reasonable person would act under the circumstances, and that failure provided the opportunity for the injury to occur.
When a child under 18 is sexually assaulted, he/she has 20 years to sue after either:
- the victim discovers — or reasonably should have discovered — that sexual abuse caused his/her injuries; or
- the victim reaches 18 years old (whichever occurs later)5
Example: Jill is sexually abused by her his uncle as a child. Jill develops a bladder disorder that she endures stoically until age 21 when she goes to the ER for urinary retention. The doctor informs her that her disorder stems from trauma to her vaginal wall. Since Jill just learned that the injuries were caused by the abuse, Jill now has 20 more years (until she is 41) to sue her uncle for sexual abuse.
Adults who were at least 18 when a sexual assault injured them can sue the perpetrator at any time.6
Other causes of action typically have a two-year statute of limitations. Note that it may be possible for this two-year limit to be extended (“tolled”) in certain circumstances. For example, the statute of limitations does not run while the defendant is outside of Nevada.7 And courts may agree to toll the statute of limitations if the victim was incapacitated after the rape or did not know the identity of the perpetrator.8
Sexual assault victims can sue for various compensatory damages to cover their expenses, such as for:
- medical bills (including mental health counseling),
- lost wages,
- loss of future earnings,
- pain and suffering, and
- attorney’s fees
Should the case go to trial, the plaintiff’s attorney would also fight for large punitive damages. Depending on the case, punitive damages can be as much as three times the amount of compensatory damages or more.9
The plaintiff can also ask for “injunctive relief,” such as an order for the defendant to stay away from the plaintiff. However, the judge would not be able to order the defendant to go to prison. Only a judge in a criminal case can impose incarceration.
Plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits generally have the burden to prove their cases by a “by a preponderance of the evidence.” In plain English, this means that the defendant more likely than not caused the plaintiff’s injuries.10
Common evidence plaintiffs rely on may include:
- video footage,
- text or voice communications,
- rape kit results,
- medical records, and
- expert medical testimony
Note that the burden of proof is very different in civil and criminal cases: If a prosecutor is charging a person with rape in Nevada, the prosecutor has the burden to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a much higher standard than “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Therefore, it is easier for an alleged rapist to be found liable in civil court than to be found guilty in criminal court.
Defendants being sued for damages arising from a sexual assault might fight back by arguing:
- the rape never took place,
- the plaintiff consented to whatever sexual acts took place, and/or
- the plaintiff is falsely accusing the defendant out of anger or revenge or a misunderstanding
Sexual assault victims may choose to file a police report against their rapist in addition to — or instead of — filing a civil lawsuit. Victims have no obligation to file a police report prior to initiating a civil lawsuit.
Victims who wish to file criminal charges are strongly advised to have an attorney help them compose their victim statement. Lawyers are skilled in conveying what exactly the perpetrators did, and what the prosecutors should charge them with.
Sexual assault is the most serious crime in Nevada after murder, carrying a possible sentence of life in prison. Learn more about the Nevada crime of sexual assault under NRS 200.366.
The rise of #MeToo and Time’s Up are proof that victims of sexual violence are being believed and taken seriously more now than ever before. If you are a survivor, please seek help. Selected resources are:
- RAINN: National Sexual Assault Hotline – call 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat
- Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas: call 702-366-1640
- Nevada 211 Victims of Crime Services: call 211 or chat
- See Restatement (Second) of Torts, §§ 13 and 18 (1965); see, for example, Jimmy Golen, Soccer star Ronaldo sued, accused of rape by Nevada woman, AP (October 1, 2018)(see the complaint).
- See Restatement (Second) of Torts, §§ 35 (1965).
- Jordan v. State ex rel. DMV & Pub. Safety, 121 Nev. 44, 110 P.3d 30 (2005); Maduike v. Agency Rent-A-Car, 114 Nev. 1, 953 P.2d 24, 26 (1998).
- Turner v. Mandaly Sports Entm’t, LLC, 124 Nev. 213, 180 P.3d 1172 (2008).
- NRS 11.215 Actions for damages for injury arising from sexual abuse of minor; exception for actions involving injury arising from appearance of minor in pornography.1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2 and NRS 217.007, an action to recover damages for an injury to a person arising from the sexual abuse of the plaintiff which occurred when the plaintiff was less than 18 years of age must be commenced within 20 years after the plaintiff:(a) Reaches 18 years of age; or(b) Discovers or reasonably should have discovered that his or her injury was caused by the sexual abuse,–> whichever occurs later.2. An action to recover damages pursuant to NRS 41.1396 must be commenced within 20 years after the occurrence of the following, whichever is later:(a) The court enters a verdict in a related criminal case; or(b) The victim reaches the age of 18 years.3. As used in this section, “sexual abuse” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 432B.100.
- NRS 11.190. SB 129 (2023).
- NRS 11.300.
- See, for example, Nelson v. Las Vegas, 99 Nev. 548, 665 P.2d 1141 (1983); Petersen v. Bruen, 106 Nev. 271, 792 P.2d 18 (1990)(“Under the discovery rule, the statutory period of limitations is tolled until the injured party discovers or reasonably should have discovered facts supporting a cause of action.”); Nevada Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(“Relation Back of Amendments. An amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when: (1) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out — or attempted to be set out — in the original pleading; or (2) the amendment changes a party or the naming of a party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(e) for serving the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment:(A) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and (B) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party’s identity.”)
- NRS 42.005.
- See, for example, Murphy v. Southern Pac. Co., 31 Nev. 120, 101 P. 322 (1909).