How Civil Law Helps Crime Victims

Posted on April 13, 2016 by Laura E. Laughlin

April 10-16 is Crime Victims’ Rights Week.  As a trial attorney representing people who have been impacted by crime, I feel it’s my responsibility to help educate people on the ways a crime victim can seek justice.

When most survivors of crime want to seek justice, they think that justice comes from the criminal justice system.  The perpetrator is tried in court and if the jury or judge convicts them, the perpetrator is punished by going to jail and that’s how the victim gets justice.  While this is true, there is another avenue that survivors of crime can seek justice—the civil justice system.

The criminal and civil systems are different in many ways and provide for different things.  Justice in the criminal system can come by the perpetrator receiving some form of punishment.  In the civil system, the justice can come by the victim receiving some form of compensation – usually with money. The goal of criminal law is to punish wrong-doers severely enough that it discourages the perpetrator and others. The goal of civil law is to help make the victim of the crime feel whole again.

Filing a lawsuit may sound scary and sometimes gets a bad rap, but lawsuits and litigation can make the difference in making a victim feel like they’re a survivor and can help to make sure that what happened, doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Some people ask, shouldn’t it just be the person who hurt me that’s responsible and gets punished?  The short answer is sometimes, but here are some examples of the way that others can be held responsible when someone commits a crime:

If a person who is drunk is served at a bar and then crashes into your car and hurts you, the bar could be held responsible.  The bar should not serve anyone alcohol who is visibly intoxicated and if they do so, that could make them responsible.

If you’re attacked by someone with a weapon while out at a nightclub, the nightclub could be responsible.  The nightclub has a duty to make sure the people in its club are safe.  Failing to check people coming in for weapons could make the club responsible for what happened.

When you drop your child off at school or daycare, you have a right to expect that your child is safe.  If your child is abused by an employee of the school or daycare, the school/daycare could be held responsible.  Schools and daycares have a responsibility to make sure the people they’re hiring to take care of your child do not have a history of crimes against children.  If the school or daycare fails to do this, they can be held responsible for what happens as a result.

Justice through a civil case comes by getting paid money, but what is that money for?  When you go to the hospital, doctors, or therapy sessions trying to cope and heal after a traumatic experience, you shouldn’t have to pay for that – especially when it could have been prevented!  The person or company who allowed this to happen can be responsible to pay for your medical bills.  They can pay for medical bills for treatment you already had, but also, for treatment you’ll need in the future.

Money can also be awarded to you for pain and suffering.  Pain and suffering can mean a lot of things, but it’s for the impact that the crime has had on your life, whether it’s sleepless nights, emotional distress or other things in between.

If a settlement is reached, meaning you don’t go to trial, but the person or company you brought your case against wants to end the case by agreeing to do certain things, you can have them take action in addition to paying money.  For example, a bar can re-train its bartenders and servers on identifying when someone is drunk so they know not to serve them any more alcohol.  A school can be required to do things to make the school safer like offer training to its teachers and students.  A nightclub could agree to have better security.  These things can help prevent what happened to you from happening to someone else.