A woman was awarded $1 million in a historical sexual abuse case. The District Court of Queensland has awarded $1 million for personal injuries resulting from historical sexual abuse perpetrated by her father.
Daughter Survived 10 Years of Sexual Abuse Perpetrated by her Father
From 1973 to 1983, the plaintiff was sexually and physically abused by her father, the defendant. She was between five and fifteen years old at the time. The first instance of abuse occurred while the defendant’s wife was in hospital giving birth. At its most serious, the sexual abuse included instances of penile rape. The abuse was frequent and ongoing. The defendant also abused the plaintiff’s mother and siblings. On one occasion, the defendant struck the plaintiff with a wooden spoon. On numerous occasions, the defendant threatened to kill the plaintiff and her mother. He once shot a rifle into the family home fireplace to emphasise this point.
The plaintiff lived in fear of her father and initially did not tell anyone about the abuse. As a result, she suffered psychological symptoms. When these symptoms did not alleviate, the plaintiff sought medical assistance. The abuse effected the plaintiff’s education and training. However, she was married, raised children, and got a job working as a laboratory manager. She worked hard to lead a normal life and by 2015 she was pursuing a degree through an open university. However, persisting depression, anxiety, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness, nightmares, fears, an inability to concentrate, memory problems, a lack of confidence, and self-esteem issues constantly plagued the plaintiff.
Plaintiff was Still Suffering from the Effects of Sexual Abuse 30 Years Later
In August 2014, 30 years after the abuse had ended, the plaintiff complained to the police. Two years later, after a re-trial, the defendant was convicted on all counts and sentenced to a period of imprisonment. The plaintiff hoped that the defendant’s conviction would give her some relief from her symptoms. Unfortunately no relief was forthcoming. In November 2017, the plaintiff claimed damages for personal injuries as a result of the abuse perpetrated by her father.
A year later, the Court awarded a default judgment to the plaintiff in her favour. Judge McGill SC decided the amount of damages awarded. His Honour was not concerned with any question of liability. The defendant represented himself at the hearing to assess damages and continued to maintain his innocence, despite the criminal convictions.
The Historical Sexual Abuse Case
An expert psychiatrist for the plaintiff diagnosed that the abuse caused a post-traumatic stress disorder, which impacted the plaintiff’s early development, subsequent interpersonal functioning, and most aspects of her psychological function in life generally. Also, the plaintiff struggled to concentrate, which impaired her ability to work. The plaintiff’s prognosis was poor because post-traumatic stress disorder tends to take a chronic course once well-established. The psychiatrist opined that the plaintiff would require ongoing treatment and medication for several years.
Judge McGill SC awarded the plaintiff $80,000 for pain and suffering and loss of amenities for her psychiatric and physical injuries caused by the historical sexual and physical abuse. His Honour also awarded $50,000 for violation of personal integrity, to reflect the seriousness of the repeated penile rape of a child between the ages of 7 and 11 by her father. The Court did not awarded aggravated damages on account of the familial relationship. The damages awarded for violation of personal integrity already reflected the familial relationship. Furthermore, the defendant had already been criminally sentenced to a period of imprisonment. Therefore, the Court did not award exemplary damages.
The Damages Awarded
The plaintiff’s past lost wages were considered on three bases;
- the time she was unemployed due to raising her children; and
- the disruption to her education and training; and
- the loss of opportunities to be promoted because of a lack of confidence due to the abuse.
The plaintiff’s psychiatric injuries also affected each of those bases.
Plaintiff Awarded $1 Million for Historical Sexual Abuse Case
The Court awarded the plaintiff $20,000 for the time she spent raising children. Furthermore, $200,000 was awarded for disruption to the plaintiff’s education. For the loss of promotion and opportunity the Court awarded $39,000. In consideration of those past lost wages, the plaintiff was awarded past lost superannuation of $20,720.
The plaintiff’s future lost wages were calculated on a $125 per week loss for 15 years. The Court used a broad approach to decide whether the plaintiff would have had a better job if not for the abuse. Consequently the Court awarded her $170,000. The Court also awarded the plaintiff $1,553.50 for the medical expenses she incurred treating her injuries sustained from the abuse. For her ongoing treatment, medication and travel, the Court awarded the plaintiff $22,500. The Court did not award damages for the plaintiff’s past or future care.
The Court awarded the plaintiff interest of:
- $137,600 on the damages for pain and suffering and violation of personal integrity;
- $212,040 on the past lost wages;
- $19,261 on the future lost wages; and
- $138.41 on the medical expenses.
In total, the Court awarded the plaintiff damages of $972,812.91, which was one of the highest awards for historical sexual offences in Queensland’s history. It is clear that the courts are beginning to reflect public opinion in terms of society’s attitude towards sexual abuse, historical or otherwise.
The Future for Sexual Abuse Cases
With the recent removal of the time limit for child sexual abuse cases, there is even more reason for complainants and plaintiffs to come forward and tell their stories. It is noteworthy that awards of damages for historical sexual abuse, by their very nature, will include large sums of interest calculated over many years, spanning from the historical time of the abuse to the present day.
An increase in litigation for sexual assault cases is likely to occur in the next few years, and as evidenced by the case discussed herein, the Court could grant large awards of damages to successful plaintiffs.