EAGLE, Colo. – In pressing on with her civil suit against NBA star Kobe Bryant (search), the woman accusing him of rape will not have to meet the higher standard of proof required in a criminal case.
On the other hand, the details of her sex life could come spilling out, along with her medical and psychological records -- the very thing she had tried so desperately to avoid in the criminal case.
Legal experts said both sides might be moving toward a settlement to avoid releasing potentially embarrassing or damaging information about not only the 20-year-old accuser but the 26-year-old Los Angeles Lakers (search) star.
As in the criminal case, the relevance of the woman's sexual conduct before and after her encounter with Bryant is likely to be the subject of a legal fight. Bryant's lawyers won that fight in the criminal case. In the civil case, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch (search) will have to decide if the information is relevant, said Mel Hewitt, an Atlanta attorney who has 20 years' experience representing victims of crimes including rape in civil court.
The procedure is almost identical to that under Colorado's rape-shield law, which generally bars defense attorneys from introducing such information unless they prove in a closed-door hearing that it is relevant, Hewitt said.
But Bryant's sexual history also could become evidence: The lawsuit, without elaboration, accuses him of "attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met."
"I would suspect there are some land mines for both sides," said Arthur Hellman, a professor specializing in federal courts and civil procedure at the University of Pittsburgh law school. "There's such a set of dangers of the material that they would each have to produce, and I would think both sides would have an incentive not to want to have all that get out."
The woman's lawyers filed the lawsuit in Denver federal court Aug. 10, seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering they say she has endured since the alleged attack in June 2003 at a Vail-area resort. The suit was filed in federal court because Bryant and his accuser live in different states.
The lawsuit outlines generally the same case against Bryant as prosecutors did: that Bryant attacked the woman in his room at the resort where she worked, causing her emotional and physical problems that linger still.
To win the case, the woman's attorneys would have to prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that Bryant forced himself on the woman and caused physical and emotional injury. That is, they would have to show that it was more likely than not that he committed the offense.
In a criminal case, prosecutors would have had to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, a more difficult standard.
Damages for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses in Colorado civil cases generally cannot exceed $733,000, though damages for economic losses and physical impairment or disfigurement are not capped. Punitive damages cannot exceed the compensatory award and can be given only if the allegations are proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The woman's attorneys, John Clune and Lin Wood, said Wednesday no payment was made to their client and no settlement negotiations have taken place. They were in a meeting Thursday and did not return calls.
In court, Clune told the trial judge his client had decided against testifying and asked prosecutors to drop the rape charges against Bryant because the accidental release of sealed information -- including her name -- had destroyed her faith in the justice system.
Yet a civil suit will not give her the same protections she had in the criminal case: Bryant's attorneys will be able to force her to sit for a deposition where they could ask her a broad range of personal questions, and her medical and psychological records could become fair game because she is seeking damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering.
"Litigation is for those involved -- plaintiffs and defendants -- very traumatic and it is almost always better off being resolved than proceeding," said Bill Keating, a veteran Denver attorney who specializes in civil litigation. "So if you look at it from that point of view, there are a lot of good reasons for Bryant, even though he professes not to have done anything wrong, to make some payment and move on with his life."
Still, he said Bryant is trying to repair his reputation and seeking new corporate endorsements, and might want to risk a trial to win a verdict in his favor.
In a statement Clune said was part of an agreement between his client and Bryant, the NBA star apologized on Wednesday for his behavior and for what she has suffered. Bryant added, however, that the accuser had agreed not to use his statement in the civil case.