Civil lawsuits await Cosby

WASHINGTON: Although Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial ended in a mistrial on Saturday, his legal problems persist as he faces assault and defamation claims in civil lawsuits, where the bar for evidence is lower than in criminal cases.

In civil lawsuits in the US, plaintiffs need only show that the weight of evidence is on their side, meaning they have information to tip the scales above 50% in their favour, as opposed to criminal cases in which prosecutors must prove claims beyond a reasonable doubt.

At least 10 women have pending civil claims against Cosby in lawsuits filed in California and Massachusetts.

Two have brought claims against the 79-year-old entertainer for sexual assault.

Others, barred from doing so because their claims were too old, have brought defamation claims against him, saying he smeared their reputations by publicly denying their accusations.

The judge in the criminal case against Cosby in Pennsylvania declared a mistrial on Saturday after jurors said they were deadlocked and unable to reach a unanimous verdict on charges that Cosby sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004. At the time, Constand worked at Cosby's alma mater, Temple University.

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said the hung jury did not mean that a civil jury would clear Cosby of liability.

"There may not be enough evidence for a criminal conviction, but that does not rule out a civil verdict," he said.

Approximately 60 accusations of sexual assault have been made against Cosby over a number of years, but only Constand's resulted in criminal charges because the other alleged incidents were too old to prosecute. Cosby has denied all of the accusations.

Constand herself sued Cosby in 2005 and settled for an undisclosed sum.

Women bringing civil cases would also likely find it easier to introduce testimony from other accusers to support claims that Cosby engaged in a pattern of assault, said Douglas Wigdor, a plaintiffs' attorney who represents clients in sexual harassment cases.

Little testimony about other accusations against Cosby was allowed in the Pennsylvania trial because of the strict standards for admitting evidence in criminal cases.

Prosecutors had sought to have 13 other accusers testify in Constand's case, but the judge allowed only one, finding that more would unfairly prejudice the jury.

Even with the lower standard of evidence in civil cases, Rodney Smolla, dean of Delaware Law School, said that plaintiffs bringing defamation claims faced a significant legal challenge.

In addition to proving that Cosby assaulted them, Smolla said, they would have to establish that he said something about them beyond denying the allegations, such as calling them known liars or promiscuous. – Reuters