Michael B. O’Brien, a former orthopedic surgeon from the Spotsylvania County region, has been found dead in his home. At this time, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office believe the death to be a suicide, and have not noted any foul play.
Last week, O’Brien was charged with one count of forcible sodomy of a victim younger than 13. Though only one survivor has come forward – the assault took place almost 35 years ago – investigators have said that they believe there may be many more victims. O’Brien faced life in prison if convicted.
Virginia’s time limits for sexual abuse and assault claims
Sexual assault is handled differently in the civil and criminal justice systems. The charge O’Brien was facing is a felony count, and felony sex charges have no statute of limitations. Had he been convicted, he would have had to serve life in prison, because his victim was 13 and O’Brien was older than 18 at the time of the abuse.
The civil justice system has different rules for survivors. Under Virginia Code 8.01-243 (D):
Every action for injury to the person, whatever the theory of recovery, resulting from sexual abuse occurring during the infancy or incapacity of the person as set forth in subdivision 6 of § 8.01-249 shall be brought within 20 years after the cause of action accrues.
D1. For a cause of action accruing on or after July 1, 2020, every action for injury to the person, whatever the theory of recovery, resulting from sexual abuse, other than those actions specified in subsection D, shall be brought within 10 years after the cause of action accrues.
Since the alleged assault occurred almost 35 years ago, the deadline for filing a lawsuit in Virginia would be 20 years after the minor’s cause of action accrues, or 20 years from his or her 18th birthday. If you were sexually abused, you may be able to seek justice through a civil lawsuit. Phelan Petty is actively reviewing these cases. Please contact us to learn more about your options.
What is considered sexual abuse or assault?
There are 11 different sexual assault charges in Virginia, and almost every single one of them involves some kind of force. As such, almost every single one of them is considered a felony crime.
What should I do if I was a victim of sexual abuse?
We understand that this is an incredibly delicate situation, especially if you have spent decades living with the effects of your abuse. We want you to know that this is not your fault; it has never been your fault. We also understand that most survivors of sexual abuse, especially child survivors, never come forward. This is not your fault, either.
But if you were sexually abused and wish to come forward, Phelan Petty can help you. We offer a safe, private, and confidential consultation with a male or female attorney – whichever makes you more comfortable – to discuss your case. And while O’Brien will never spend any more time in prison, you still deserve closure and justice.
Even if your abuse took place outside the statute of limitations, you may still be able to pursue damages. First, the time limit for sexual abuse claims is tolled for minors, which means that the statute of limitations does not start until you turn 18. As such, even if you were abused more than 20 years ago, you may still be able to file a lawsuit. Furthermore, other entities may be liable besides just O’Brien. If you reported your abuse to another doctor, for example, and that doctor chose not to report, he or she is in violation of Virginia’s mandated reporting laws, and could potentially be named in a lawsuit. So, too, could the practice for which O’Brien worked.
What kinds of damages can you seek for a sexual abuse claim in Virginia?
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, you can file a civil lawsuit if you suffered injuries, physical or otherwise, from being abused. As with any personal injury claim, you can seek economic and non-economic damages for:
- Medical expenses for any physical injuries you sustained, as well as treatment for mental trauma.
- Lost income if your abuse or assault left you unable to work, or if you could not work because you were the primary caregiver of a child who was abused.
- Pain and suffering caused by your injuries, including mental anguish.
In some cases, a court may assign punitive damages to punish an abuser for wrongdoing.
At Phelan Petty, we help people get justice for the wrongs committed against them. If you were sexually abused by any medical professional in Virginia, we want to help. Please call us in Richmond at 804-980-7100, or fill out our contact form.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.