How do I sue an abusive step-parent?
October 15, 2009 3:43 PM   Subscribe

How does an adult find a lawyer to sue an abusive step-parent more than a decade after the fact?

I want to sue a step-parent for damages. They've ruined my life and made it a living hell of dysfunction.

I suffered over 10 years of extreme physical and emotional abuse as a child and it has wrecked me, my self confidence, my ability to function. We're not talking about a "I never got my pony" scenario. We're talking about severe physical violence from a grown adult to a child along with very severe psychological/emotional abuse.

I'm not at all interested in hearing anything about "letting bygones be bygones", or "forgive and forget". I've tried that. I'm tired of blaming myself for being broken and damaged like it was somehow my fault I had the shit kicked out of me on a daily basis.

The goals of the lawsuit are,

1. I want punitive, monetary damages to pay for therapy and treatment so I can have what's left of my life as functional as I can manage.

2. I want to help set a legal precedent that abuse isn't tolerated and parents are indeed legally and fiscally responsible for the crimes they committed under the umbrella of "parenting".

3. I want this step-parent to realize that what they did was not ok and that after many attempts at communication and reconciliation they've willfully denied their responsibility and haven't even attempted to offer an apology.

How do I find a lawyer? How do I find a pro-bono lawyer that will consider my case?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lawyer will explain to you the realities of the statutes of limitations. In all likelihood, too much time has passed for any lawsuit to have a chance.

But, to answer the question - the best way to find a good litigation lawyer is to ask another lawyer.
posted by megatherium at 3:56 PM on October 15, 2009

where are you? how old are you now? how old were you during the abuse? where did the abuse occur (in the state you're in now or elsewhere)?

from googling around a bit, it seems like personal injury lawyers are the ones who usually handle civil child abuse claims where the case is brought after the child becomes an adult. how to find a lawyer
posted by nadawi at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2009

How old are you?

Under some circumstances, a statute of limitations for a civil action for personal injuries inflicted on a child is "tolled" (i.e., the running of the time period in which to file a suit is placed on hold) until the child reaches majority. The child, now an adult, may then have the ordinary amount of time under the statute of limitations, to file the action. I have no idea whether that's the case where you live.

It can get complicated, with issues relating to statutes of limitation, statutes of repose, etc., and it is definitely something for which you need a lawyer to give you an answer.
posted by jayder at 4:05 PM on October 15, 2009

also - this is not advice to let bygones be bygones or to just let it go - but just a setting expectations sort of thing.

from your list: you might have a chance at #1 (if you have actual actionable proof and you're on the right side of the statute of limitations), and that would give you half of #2, however, in civil court, even if you're successful, your step-parent won't be found guilty - they will be found liable for damages (which probably won't set any precedents). for point #3, even if you're successful, this isn't something a courtroom or a monetary settlement can give you. you can't make someone accept responsibility or apologize in any meaningful way. they may never realize what they didn't wasn't ok and even if you win a settlement you still have to get the money which is a battle all unto itself (for instance, OJ Simpson has barely paid any of his wrongful death amount). the road you're looking to step onto isn't an easy one and trying to secure a judgment could take years and ultimately be unsuccessful. have you considered if you'll be better or worse off in your headspace about all this if it does go to trial and they are found not liable?

i considered the same thing you're asking about with regards to my brother and sexual abuse. after a lot of research, i realized that there was no actual proof and what i really wanted was an apology, which wasn't up to the court systems to give me. since then i've focused on living my life in spite of what he did to me instead of because of what he did to me. it seemed to me that by going forward with any criminal or civil case, i was giving the control back to him and that chances are he'd only find delight in knowing that i was still so screwed up.
posted by nadawi at 4:39 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Does your local police department have a sex crimes or child sex crimes division? If so, call them. If not, call your local lawyers' association and ask for names of lawyers who specialize in child abuse cases. I know you are not a child, but you were. If anyone knows the limitations of the law, it will be someone who deals with these cases regularly.
posted by x46 at 5:04 PM on October 15, 2009

Try contacting any local domestic abuse shelter, they should have resources to assist you in finding the help you need, including legal assistance.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:59 PM on October 15, 2009

As other people have mentioned, you would need some kind of proof for this to be viable.
That could be medical records documenting physical injury or statements from witnesses to the abuse.
posted by w0mbat at 2:19 AM on October 16, 2009

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