Lanier Law Group: Giving Child Sexual Abuse Victims a Voice

2024 Feature Nominations

In 1999, a woman in her 30s, who said she had been sexually abused by her psychiatrist beginning with an inpatient hospital admission, met with North Carolina personal injury attorney Lisa Lanier.

“I was angry as I reviewed the mountain of evidence that this psychiatrist had taken advantage of a patient at her most vulnerable time. I knew I had to take the case because this perpetrator had to be stopped,” said Lanier, owner and founder of Lanier Law Group.

The firm has nine attorneys and nine offices across the state and one in South Carolina. There are anchor locations in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh, with smaller offices in Asheville, Burlington, Durham, Fayetteville and Wilmington. It handles a full spectrum of personal injury cases and has developed a substantial practice representing victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault, including children and adults.

“It’s an epidemic. The number of calls I get daily would blow your mind,” said Lanier.

The firm handles roughly 80 to 100 sexual abuse cases a year, not counting cluster cases and more than 250 cases filed in the two-year lookback window arising out of the SAFE Child Act.

Adult clients have been victimized by massage therapists, doctors, supervisors at work, pastors, dentists, lawyers, teachers, coaches, apartment maintenance staff, police officers, prison guards, therapists, psychiatrists, and just about any place a power imbalance exists, and a victim is vulnerable.

“Pedophiles go to where the children are, like youth-serving organizations such as schools, sports teams, youth athletic clubs, scouting groups, churches, and summer camps,” said Bobby Jenkins, an attorney with Lanier who litigates many of the cases. “Pedophiles don’t retire. It’s not something they do only once.”

Some of the firm’s clients were victimized as children, and it took them years to be ready to discuss what had happened and decide to file a civil suit against their alleged abuser.

The ability of a victim to file a civil suit depends on the age when they were abused, the age when they report it or file a civil action, and whether or not the perpetrator has been charged and sentenced for the crime.

SAFE Child Act Challenged

When the North Carolina General Assembly passed the SAFE Child Act in 2019, it provided survivors of child sexual abuse an opportunity to file claims in civil court against their alleged abusers.

“It created a two-year lookback window that allowed child sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits, regardless of any previous statute of limitations that would have barred those cases,” explained Lanier. “Although that lookback window ended in December 2021, the constitutionality of it has now been challenged, and this challenge could disrupt the entire purpose of the act.”

The Gaston County Board of Education’s challenge seeks to undo the lookback window arguing it would set the stage for “endless” liability. Lanier’s firm argued against the challenge before the N.C. Court of Appeals in June “to save the lookback window for all the victims of child sex abuse who are relying on it for justice.” Several hundred victims are awaiting the outcome.


“We have become trauma-informed lawyers,” said Lanier. “You cannot just treat someone who has been through this severe trauma like you treat a car wreck victim or a workers’ comp claimant. Survivors of child sexual abuse can be in an incredibly fragile mental state. We have spent hours and hours attending seminars taught not by lawyers but by psychologists learning how to be trauma-informed.

“We speak very delicately to victims,” she continued. “We don’t ask questions like ‘Where were you touched?’ in our first conversation. They need a lot of reinforcement. They need a lot of ‘I am sorry this happened to you.’ We’re going to take this very slow and easy.

“If there’s a child that we’re dealing with, I do not meet with the child for several visits,” Lanier adds, “and I make sure there’s a therapist involved with the child and that the therapist says it’s OK to talk to the child.”

In civil cases, the victim may receive compensation for medical bills and the pain and suffering from the emotional trauma of the abuse. “A sexual abuse civil claim can provide the victim with a much-needed sense of justice and help prevent similar acts from occurring in the future,” added Lanier.

Victims in their 50s

The firm gets calls from people in their 50s trying to come to terms with being abused by an adult in authority when they were young. In fact, there is evidence that it takes a lot of victims until their 40s or 50s before they can try to vocalize what happened.

Unfortunately, the victims cannot sue the perpetrator unless they have been arrested and convicted of that crime within two years of when the victim files a lawsuit.

“Regular statutes of limitations do not contemplate the incredible mental and emotional trauma and the number of years it may take for victims to find the strength and courage to come forward to talk about what happened to them when they were young,” said Jenkins. “We have spoken with people in this process, and we are the first people they’ve ever told what happened. They never told a family member or a spouse. They wanted to bring their claims, and we were the first people they’ve ever told about the abuse. Some survivors have had to reenter therapy when they decided to file a claim.”

Word Spreads Quickly

When the firm files a child sexual abuse case against an institution, the word gets around quickly to other children and their parents, who may choose to file their own cases.

“Many times, the children will know other children who have been abused. They may share that with their parents. Then those parents may be contacted as potential witnesses,” said Jenkins. “This kind of conduct is so universally abhorrent that people who know something about the circumstance of the abuse will talk to us. Usually, if it’s going on in an institution or child-serving organization, people know it or suspect it.”

The cases are handled individually rather than as a class action or mass tort because the facts in each case vary. The firm often ends up representing clusters of claimants who were victimized by the same perpetrator at the same institution.

Justice Achieved

“We have to turn a lot of people away because they were abused by mama’s boyfriend or stepdad or grandpa. The problem is grandpas, stepdads or boyfriends may have no money or no job. We can get the victim a huge judgment, but what’s that worth?” said Lanier. You simply cannot ask a survivor of sexual abuse to endure the emotional process of litigation if there is no ability to recover.

Accordingly, the firm prefers to take cases where the victim was allegedly abused in an institution that may have insurance policies or otherwise be able to satisfy a judgment. By holding child-serving institutions accountable, we force them to become better guardians of the children entrusted to their care.

“We find that if we do a good job with the work-up, we settle these cases. If we’ve got multiple victims and an institution that doesn’t have a statute of limitations problem. These institutions don’t want this stuff they’ve let happen to be known,” said Lanier.

Bob Friedman

Robert "Bob" Friedman is the publisher of Attorney at Law Magazine North Carolina Triangle. He contributes articles and interviews to each issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts