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Any Crime Victim May Be Able to File a Civil Lawsuit against a Perpetrator or Other Responsible Party
Regardless of the outcome of the criminal prosecution, or even if there was no prosecution, crime victims can file civil lawsuits against offenders and other responsible parties. 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. 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.
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 in finding a qualified attorney, the National Crime Victim Bar Association can provide victims with referrals to local attorneys specializing in victim-related litigation.*
Attorney Selection Considerations
- A productive attorney-client relationship is based upon the ability of both sides to communicate fully and effectively with each other. Although relating sensitive details can be difficult for crime victims, they should feel as comfortable as possible in fully disclosing all details and information to their attorneys. Attorneys should be able to explain effectively important aspects of legal
proceedings to victims and they should be responsive to victims? needs and requests.
- Prior to signing a contract for attorney representation (a retainer agreement), victims should fully understand all the details of the contract. If victims have questions, they should feel comfortable in discussing them with the attorneys. If questions persist, local bar association personnel may be able to explain laws, regulations, and common practices pertaining to contracts with attorneys.
- Victims should be clear about what they wish their attorneys to do, and attorneys should be clear about what services they are providing. Understanding each other's expectations, as well as avoiding unrealistic expectations, can minimize the possibility of disappointments and frustration.
- Victims should feel free to consult with several lawyers before selecting one. Lawyers are professionals, and it is good consumer practice to obtain a second opinion in selecting professional legal counsel.
- Victims should cooperate as fully as possible with their attorneys. Such cooperation is essential for successful representation of their interests. By the same token, victims have the right to expect their attorneys to be understanding, respectful, and responsive to their needs. Attorneys have the right to expect their clients to be honest, and willing to participate in building their own cases.
Fees and Retainers
Usually, civil cases brought by victims of crime are billed by attorneys on a contingency fee basis. This means the attorney is only paid a fee if the victim is awarded a monetary settlement or judgment. If the case is successful, the attorney's fee comes from a predetermined percentage of the total award. Regardless of whether the case is successful, the victim may be responsible
for paying certain costs associated with the case including filing fees, expert witness fees, and deposition-related expenses.
Questions Your Attorney May Ask
When crime victims consult with an attorney, they should be prepared to answer detailed questions about the case that will allow the attorney to conduct a proper evaluation. Attorneys might request information such as the following:
About the Criminal Event:
- Date and time of criminal occurrence
- Location of events, addresses, and description of premises
- Identification of witnesses to any stage of the occurrence
- Identification of known physical evidence
- Whether a police report was filed, and if so, identification of: the police department where the complaint was filed, the detective or officer assigned to the case, the complaint or report number, and statements taken as part of an investigation
- Whether there was or is a criminal case and if so, identification of: the prosecutor, current stage of criminal case, and description of the case investigation conducted
About the Perpetrator:
- If the perpetrator is known to the victim: nature of relationship with victim, perpetrator?s name and aliases, address, date of birth and social security number, employment information, and any information known about the perpetrator's assets and insurance coverage
- If the perpetrator is not known to the victim: physical description of the perpetrator, identifying features
- If the perpetrator is not known to the victim, but a third party might bear some liability for the occurrence of the crime, details of events surrounding the crime and where it was committed become increasingly important, such as information about where the occurrence took place and whether there was any security, if known.
About Damages Sustained by the Victim:
- Medical information: degree of physical, emotional, and psychological injuries sustained and extent and cost of anticipated treatment
- Identification of hospital, physician services
- Identification of property damage
- Amount of victim's or victim's spouse's lost time from work, lost wages, money recouped from workers compensation, or state or private disability insurance
- Source of funds to cover damages or losses such as insurance (policy number), crime victims compensation, Medicare, and restitution.
This is just some of the information you may need to know as you think about hiring a civil attorney. If you have other questions, or if you would like help finding an attorney, please contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association.*