Victims of domestic violence can sue the abuser for injuries in a civil court. Domestic violence is not just a crime; it can also result in civil liability based on tort law. Tort law provides remedies to persons injured by the actions of another. Since domestic violence results in injuries, the victim can sue the abuser for the injuries.
Criminal Proceedings Are Not A Bar
The criminal proceedings against the abuser are separate from the civil lawsuit. The pending of the criminal proceedings does not act as a bar on filing of the civil lawsuit. There is no law that prevents a person from being sued in a criminal court and in a civil court for domestic violence. The best example of this is the O.J.Simpson case. Simpson was acquitted by the criminal court for murder of this wife but his wife’s parents sued him for damages and succeeded.
Suing a Family Member
Traditionally you could not sue your own family member for tort. This legal provision was mean to prevent family units from breaking up. Many states have now moved away from this line of thinking and have stated allowing family members to file tort claims against each other. The reasoning is that if there is a tort claim, the family unit has probably broken down and therefore the injured member should be compensated. So in states that allow family members to file tort claims against one another will allow the victim of domestic violence to file a civil lawsuit against the abuser.
States that bar the filing of tort claims against family members include Washington DC, Wyoming, Utah, Texas, Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana, Iowa, Illinois, Hawaii, Delaware and Arizona. But even these states make an exception for intentional torts – deliberate actions to cause harm. Assault, batter, psychological abuse and other forms of domestic violence are intentional torts. If the abuser was threatening or stalking the victim or destroying property, the victim can claim infliction of emotional distress.
Things to Consider
Suing the abuser for damages gives the victim a sense of control and some sort of emotional relief. Victims of domestic abuse can claim damages including:
• Medical expenses
• Lost Wages
• Pain and Suffering
• Punitive Damages (if allowed by state law)
Merely filing the lawsuit will not suffice. It can be very stressful, especially since the other party is someone from the family. The victim must prove the injuries and that the abuser caused the injuries. Mere allegations will not be enough. There must be evidence in the form of medical reports. However, for most victims, filing a civil lawsuit against the abuser serves as a closure and enables them to move on in life.
Fighting the lawsuit can be costly. However, the court can order the abuser to pay the legal expenses incurred by the victim. Many attorneys accept such lawsuits on contingency basis. So the attorney will not charge anything until the victim receives compensation. Before filing a lawsuit, the victim must find out that the abuser has the resources to pay.
Victims of domestic violence should consult an experienced attorney if they want to file a civil lawsuit against the abuser. The lawsuit must be filed with the statute of limitation. Speak to an experienced attorney. You can also seek the assistance of the following organizations:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)