Victims of Violent Crimes: Filing Civil Lawsuit
UPDATED: February 10, 2020
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A victim of a violent crime such as an assault, battery, sexual assault or similar offense has a right to file a personal injury lawsuit for damages, including punitive damages, to recover from physical injuries and long term emotional trauma. Although the question of fault is rarely at issue in a personal injury lawsuit that involves some sort of violent criminal attack, victims of violent crimes face unique challenges in seeking compensation for their injuries.
TIP: Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney after you have received medical assistance for your injuries. An attorney can review your injuries, analyze the circumstances of the attack, and give you the best chance to recover the money you deserve.
Who to Sue
The most difficult issue a victim faces is finding a party who is able to pay the judgment. In most cases, the perpetrator of the crime will not have the stability or resources to pay a judgment even if it is obtained. Often, the perpetrator is incarcerated and has no significant earning capacity in the near future. An experienced personal injury attorney who handles cases involving violent crimes will typically look for other parties that bear some responsibility for the victim’s injuries including:
- A security company which had the job of guarding the victim, and was supposed to prevent such attacks
- A commercial property owner which owned the property where the victim was attacked, and did not provide adequate security
- A government entity, such as an agency, that owned the property where the victim was attacked, and did not properly secure the premises
- A working professional required by law to disclose threats, such as a psychologist, therapist, or teacher. With this category, the working professional must have had a specific threat disclosed to them, and have failed to disclose that threat.
Some perpetrators have personal insurance. Most insurance policies exclude intentional criminal acts from coverage. It is imperative that an experienced personal injury lawyer carefully evaluate the specific facts and circumstances of your situation because they are the professionals who can determine whether parties beyond the perpetrator may bear some responsibility for your injuries.
Another hurdle to overcome in lawsuits following criminal activity is how to prove the damages you are owed. Defendants, through the attorneys, will challenge damage calculations for a number of reasons:
- Injuries made worse by other parties / past injury
- Mental or emotional damages not owed because trauma or criminal behavior was not severe enough
- Pain and suffering or future lost wages not owed because injury is not serious enough
- Punitive damages not owed because the action was not serious enough
Arguing damages can be a highly technical process requiring expert witness testimony from doctors, therapists, or policy officers who can speak to the severity of the crime, the seriousness of the injury, and the projected length of recovery. Working with experts during a personal injury lawsuit will require the resources and legal acumen of an attorney.
Personal Injury Lawsuits After Sexual Assaults
Criminal offenses involving sexual assaults can result in very long-term psychological impacts in addition to the immediate physical damage. Consider a few statistics regarding the impact of sexual assaults:
- A victim of a sexual assault is 400% more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts.
- Sexual assault victims have a 300% greater probability of struggling with depression.
- Victims of sex crimes are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
In sexual assault cases, determining the amount of damages to cover such expenses requires expert testimony from mental health professionals in addition to the hospital or psychiatric bills for ongoing physical and mental treatment. If you are a victim of a violent crime, especially a sexual assault, an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to advise you the best way to proceed.
NOTE: Personal injury lawsuits brought by crime victims will, at some point, involve settlement negotiations and offers. If you sign a settlement offer, you lose your right to pursue any further legal action.