A former Florida State University student on Thursday filed a lawsuit against top NFL prospect Jameis Winston, saying he assaulted and raped her at an off-campus apartment in 2012.
The lawsuit by Erica Kinsman, which seeks damages from the former Seminoles quarterback, was filed two weeks before the April 30 NFL draft. Winston could be selected as the first overall pick.
Winston has denied the allegations and prosecutors declined to file charges against him in late 2013. He also was cleared by the university following a two-day student conduct hearing last year. The hearing was held to determine whether Winston violated four sections of the code of conduct — two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment.
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But John Clune, a lawyer for Kinsman, said in a statement there are consequences for Winston's behavior "and since others have refused to hold him accountable, our client will."
"Erica hopes to show other survivors the strength and empowerment that can come from refusing to stay silent no matter what forces are against you," Clune said. "Jameis Winston in contrast has proven time and time again to be an entitled athlete who believes he can take what he wants. He took something here that he was not entitled to and he hurt someone."
The AP generally does not routinely identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault. However, Kinsman has told her story publicly in a documentary.
The lawsuit, which goes into detail about the 2012 incident, accuses Winston of rape, assault, false imprisonment and emotional distress.
Because the burden of proof is much lower in a civil lawsuit than in a criminal case, Kinsman could have a better chance of winning a jury verdict if it goes to trial.
David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami, said in a civil case the standard amounts to the "greater weight" of the evidence, or "merely tipping the scales in favor of the plaintiff."
In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove a person's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning jurors must be entirely convinced of guilt.
"The scales have to be tipped all the way over to the side of the prosecution," said Weinstein, who is not involved in the case.
Weinstein also said that he thought Kinsman's chances of prevailing were good, based on the detailed allegations and multiple witness statements in the lawsuit. But that doesn't mean it will be easy.
"The defense will drag her character through the mud, so this is going to be an unpleasant process for her," he said. "However, Winston has a lot to lose, so I foresee a settlement and not a trial."
Kinsman has also filed a lawsuit against FSU's trustees, asserting that university officials had knowledge of her alleged sexual harassment and discrimination by the star quarterback and this created a hostile educational environment for her. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including reimbursement for tuition, damages for emotional pain and suffering and loss of past and present earning and earning capacity.
Lawyers for the university's board of trustees contend the lawsuit should be dismissed because it does not show that FSU was responsible for her harassment, but they also maintain that they offered her assistance.