Sexual misconduct claims can range in severity from workplace harassment to allegations of rape. Although most forms of sexual misconduct are crimes, they are also “torts,” or “causes of action” that can be the subject of a civil lawsuit for monetary damages. In South Carolina, there is no statute of limitations for crimes. Although, as a practical matter, crimes are usually not prosecuted many years after the alleged acts, they can be. There is no time limit in SC to arrest and charge a person with any crime. Civil lawsuits in SC, on the other hand, have statutes of limitations which can vary depending on the type of case. As a general rule and in many cases, the statute of limitations is three years after which you cannot file suit. Is there any way around the statute of limitations in SC for sexual misconduct claims?
What is Defamation in South Carolina?
The South Carolina Supreme Court has defined defamation as “a spoken, written or otherwise communicated statement about another person that has a natural tendency to harm that person’s reputation.” Defamation includes the concepts of slander (spoken defamation) and libel (published defamation). If you bring a lawsuit for defamation in SC, you will have the burden of proving:
- Defamatory language was used – language that adversely affects one’s reputation and questions the plaintiff’s honesty, integrity, sanity, etc.;
- The language identifies the plaintiff to a reasonable reader or listener, even if no explicit reference to the plaintiff is made;
- The false statement was published to a third party (this can include verbal communication);
- The statement caused harm, material or reputational, to the plaintiff;
- The statement is demonstrably false; and
- The accused acted negligently, recklessly or with malice.
If you are not a public figure, you do not have to prove malice or an intent to cause harm. Also, some amount of damages may be presumed simply from the fact that the defamatory statement was made.
When Can I Bring a Lawsuit for Defamation in SC?
As a practical matter, it is not enough that someone made the defamatory statement and you were injured by it. The next thing that your attorney is going to determine is whether the defendant can pay if you were to get a verdict against them. If the defendant has assets, if the defendant’s conduct can be attributed to their business, or if there is insurance coverage, then it might make sense to file suit and go after them. On the other hand, most defamatory statements are made by ordinary (not wealthy) people, the statements are not attributable to a business entity, and there is no insurance coverage. Because most personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency basis, they are not likely to accept a case where you will not be able to collect your money after you win…
What Does Defamation Have to do With Sexual Misconduct?
Consider this: You are sexually assaulted, harassed, or even subjected to rape. Maybe the offender was charged and went to jail or maybe not. Either way, your statute of limitations to file suit against the offender is most likely going to limit you to a three-year window (remember that statutes of limitation vary depending on the type of case – this is not legal advice and you must talk to your attorney about your specific situation). The recent “Me Too” movement has highlighted one way to find Justice for a sexual assault long after the statute of limitations has expired for filing suit. Many women are finding that, when they find the courage and they expose their abuser, the abuser will publicly announce that it never happened. Some will go even further, calling the woman a liar and attacking their character. When this happens, if you are telling the truth, you now have a defamation claim against the abuser… Truth is an absolute defense to defamation, and, if they take the case to trial, they are going to be forced to litigate the truth or falsity of your claim. Although the defendant is on trial for defamation and not sexual assault, the truth of the sexual assault will be exposed, the jurors are going to hear about it, and those same jurors are going to decide how much the defendant must pay to compensate for the defamation claim.
Many Paths to Justice with Creative Lawyering
If you have a defamation claim and you believe that a judgment may be collectible against the person who made the defamatory statements, your Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyer at Coastal Law may be able to help you. If you had a sexual assault claim but the statute of limitations has expired, keep in mind that, if the person who assaulted you calls you a liar and defames your character because of your “Me Too” moment, you may now have a new cause of action against them with a new statute of limitations. Call us now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss whether you have a claim and how we can pursue it.