The New York state Adult Survivors Act (ASA) expired recently, but not without causing a stir in the entertainment and political worlds as several prominent men were named in sex abuse lawsuits.
Celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, Diddy, Steven Tyler, Russell Brand, Cuba Gooding Jr., Axl Rose, Bill Cosby, Terry Richardson, and Jimmy Iovine have been accused of sexual misconduct in cases dating back several decades. The ASA provided a “one-year look back window” for survivors of sexual abuse in the state to file civil claims without any statute of limitations.
One day before the deadline, Foxx was sued for sexual assault, which he vehemently denies. Tyler has been accused of forcibly kissing a minor in the 1970s, while Brand faces allegations of assaulting a film extra on the set of a 2011 movie.
Diddy, who settled a federal lawsuit with his ex-girlfriend Cassie involving charges of rape, abuse, and sex trafficking, has been sued by two other women.
Given these developments, what happens next? According to attorney Judie Saunders, filing a lawsuit is just the beginning of a long and daunting legal process. Critics often claim that victims are seeking financial gain, but Saunders emphasizes the courage it takes for survivors to come forward.
Cynthia Augello, a partner at the Warren Law Group, explains the legal steps that follow the filing of a lawsuit. After being served with a complaint, the defendant typically has a month to respond.
They can choose to answer the complaint or move to dismiss it if they believe the plaintiff has failed to state a valid cause of action. In high-profile cases, defendants often attempt to have the case dismissed.
During this process, discovery may be put on hold until a decision is made, which can take several months to a year. If the defendant answers the complaint, discovery commences, and the case may be trial-ready within a year.
Both parties exchange evidence and conduct depositions, and after discovery, one or both parties may move for summary judgment. If the motion is denied, a trial will take place. The entire process can last months or years, scaring off many litigants due to the invasive nature of disclosure.
Augello and Saunders agree that many cases are likely to be settled. According to Saunders, around 98% of lawsuits end in settlement. The details of these settlements are typically kept private, as was the case with Cassie and Diddy.
The recent lawsuit involving Cassie may have inspired other women to come forward, as it often gives victims the courage to navigate the legal process.
Accusers, however, should be prepared to answer why they waited so long to come forward. Saunders acknowledges that this question is inevitable and advises addressing it during opening statements.
There are various reasons why survivors may have hesitated to come forward, such as fear, shame, or disbelief. Some trusted friends may have even discouraged them from speaking out. Saunders also notes that it can take years for survivors to recognize their experiences as assault.
While the flurry of lawsuits may seem less significant in the eyes of the public, Saunders assures that they will have a lasting impact on the law and jurisprudence. New laws are likely to emerge as a result of these cases.
Both the defendants and plaintiffs face a challenging road ahead. The uncomfortable subject matter and the passage of time make it difficult to procure or present evidence, thus impacting the burden of proof for the plaintiff. Ultimately, the lack of evidence could render the case unwinnable for the plaintiff.