Helping Crime Victims Pursue Civil Justice

The NCVBA provides technical support to attorneys representing crime victims in civil actions, refers crime victims to lawyers in their local area, and works to increase general awareness about the availability of civil remedies for victims of crime.

Information for Victim Service Providers

Any Crime Victim May Be Able to File a Civil Lawsuit Against a Perpetrator or Other Responsible Party

How Civil Litigation Can Help Crime Victims

More than 24 million Americans are victimized by crime each year. The consequences of crime frequently extend far beyond the criminal act. All too often victims are left with expenses for medical procedures, physical rehabilitation, counseling, and lost wages. Although many crime victims and their families have some knowledge about the legal system, they are often unaware that there are two systems of justice available in which to hold the offender accountable, the criminal justice system and the civil justice system.

Unlike the criminal justice process, the civil justice system does not attempt to determine an offender's guilt or innocence. Offenders are also not put in prison. Rather, civil courts attempt to ascertain whether an offender or a third-party is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of the crime. If defendants are found civilly liable, courts may order them to pay monetary damages to victims.

The civil legal system offers crime victims an opportunity to secure what they seek most: justice. Regardless of whether there was a successful criminal prosecution, or any prosecution at all, victims can bring their claims before a court and ask to have the responsible parties held accountable. In the civil justice system, offenders are held accountable, not to the state, but to the victims who suffered the direct impact of the crime. While money awarded in civil lawsuits can never fully compensate a victim for the trauma of victimization or the loss of a loved one, it can be a valuable resource to help crime victims rebuild their lives. Moreover, the exposure to civil liability is a powerful incentive for landlords, businessmen, and other proprietors to enact the security measures necessary to prevent future victimizations.

Victims can consider suing perpetrators or other responsible parties. Some examples of other parties who might share some responsibility for the crime include hotel owners who fail to provide security measures, shopping malls that fail to provide adequate security, parents who allow children access to firearms, and tavern owners who serve alcohol to intoxicated persons.

How to Find an Attorney

Today, more attorneys than ever are representing crime victims in civil lawsuits, although relatively few specifically identify themselves as "crime victim" attorneys. To assist you, the National Crime Victim Bar Association provides crime victims with referrals to local attorneys specializing in victim-related litigation. The referral service can be reached at (202) 467-8716 between 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.(EST) Monday through Friday. Questions can also be e-mailed to victimbar@ncvc.org.

Victim Service Providers' Role

  • Because they eventually may be subpoenaed as witnesses, service providers must be careful about discussing possible civil lawsuits with victims. It is a good idea for service providers to obtain competent legal advice about the privilege laws in their state so that they can know what to say,and what not to say, to a victim.
  • Service providers can and should advise crime victims in general terms about their right to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator or other responsible parties.
  • Service providers should advise victims about how to find competent and caring civil attorneys.
  • Service providers should always give victims moral support!

Civil Justice Training

Educated victim service providers are a key to raising awareness among victims about their civil justice rights. Therefore, the National Crime Victim Bar Association conducts regular training seminars for crime victim service providers. While service providers are often well-versed in the intricacies of the criminal justice system, they are often unfamiliar with the civil justice system and how it can help crime victims rebuild their lives. Seminars focus on the basics of tort law, the various civil causes of action that can be brought by victims, and where service providers can refer victims to find legal assistance. Formats range in length from ninety minutes to three hours. For information on how to host a seminar, contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association at (202)467-8753 or victimbar@ncvc.org.