Does the Woman Suing Bill Cosby for Sexual Assault Have a Viable Case?

Legal expert Robin Wilson says the unique circumstances involved make the lawsuit a feasible one

Photo: Todd Williamson/Invision/AP

Though many women have come forward with sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, only one has actually filed a lawsuit against him.

Judy Huth claims in a civil suit that Cosby, 77, sexually battered her when she was 15 years old, and that this directly led to emotional distress. Because she was a minor when the alleged abuse occurred, Huth has a longer window to file suit due to a discovery rule.

“You get a longer amount of time under a child abuse statute because when someone harms or assaults them, they’re not in a good position usually to take up for themselves or even to disclose,” explains Professor Robin Wilson of the University of Illinois College of Law. “Sometimes it can be so damaging that they don’t even know that they’ve been harmed legally.”

In the case of childhood sexual abuse, a victim must prove that they discovered psychological illnesses or injures within the past three years, and that it was caused by the abuse – which is precisely what her complaint alleges.

“We say the statute of limitations doesn’t apply until we see the discovery of a harm,” says Wilson. “That’s pretty typical.”

Wilson says Huth can argue that it was only after Cosby’s other accusers came forward that she was able to link her “mental anguish” and “significant problems throughout her life” to the sexual assault she claims the comedian committed in the Playboy Mansion in 1974.

“If the fact-finder buys that, they get past the statute of limitations, and then it literally is a case of showing that this man harmed her and she’s entitled to damages,” explains Wilson. Cosby’s lawyer hasn’t commented specifically about Huth’s suit, but has called the wave of new accusations against Cosby “fantastical” and “illogical.”

In addition to disputing her claim of abuse, Cosby and his lawyers could counter by saying that Huth could have known about the emotional distress and its causes earlier.

“He can say, ‘Whatever you think happened, you knew enough long enough to have done something before now,’ ” says Wilson.

Wilson says the case has a “high settlement value,” though she believes that Cosby may choose to enter litigation.

“When you’re not able to keep the lid on something, the value of settling goes down,” she explains. Cosby settled a lawsuit brought by former Temple University staffer Andrea Constand over her claims of sexual abuse in 2006.

As for whether the other accusers will now be more likely to choose to sue, it will likely be determined by the laws in their respective jurisdictions, as well as their ages at the time of the alleged assault.

“In every jurisdiction it would come down to whether they have a very protective rule for children who were injured by people as a result of a sexual battery, and only a handful of states even have special rules for sexual battery,” says Wilson. “What’s also interesting is that this only applies to anyone who was under 18, because anyone who was over 18 falls under the normal statute of limitations, which in California is two years.”

Because of this short time frame, three additional women have come forward through lawyer Gloria Allred to ask that the Cosby waive the statute of limitations in their cases so that they too may take legal action.

Though Cosby has yet to comment specifically on the allegations being made against him, he did Tweet messages of thanks to his supporters on Tuesday evening.

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