Filing a Domestic Violence Lawsuit
If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is possible to sue your abuser for your injuries in civil court. Most acts of domestic violence result not only in criminal liability, but civil liability, through tort law. Tort law provides civil legal remedies for people who are injured in some way by another. Since domestic abuse is a form of injury, a victim of domestic violence could file a domestic violence lawsuit in civil court.
Criminal Proceedings Do Not Bar a Victim from Suing in Civil Court
A common misconception is that once a person has been tried for something in criminal court, he or she cannot be tried in civil court for that same claim. This is actually not the case. Goldman v. Simpson is a classic example of this. O.J. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court for the murder of Ron Goldman, but Goldman's parents sued Simpson for money damages in civil court and prevailed. Just because your abuser has been tried in criminal court or you have obtained a restraining order against him or her, does not mean you cannot sue your abuser in civil court.
Suing a Family Member
Traditionally, courts would not allow family members to sue each other for torts. This law was based on concerns about breaking down the family unit. Today, many state courts have moved away from this, reasoning that if family members have torts claims against each other, the family unit is probably already broken down, and those injured parties should have their day in court. Hence, states that allow family members to sue each other would probably not bar a family member, such as a spouse, from filing a domestic violence lawsuit against another family member for injuries.
Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, and Washington D.C. still follow the traditional rule barring family members from suing each other. However, they sometimes make exceptions when a tort was intentional. An intentional tort refers to a deliberate action that causes harm to another person. Since many forms of domestic violence, such as battery, assault, and psychological abuse, constitute intentional torts, these acts also constitute solid claims for a domestic violence lawsuit. Another tort claim, intentional infliction of emotional distress, may be available if the abuser was stalking, threatening, or destroying property.
Things to Consider Before Filing a Domestic Violence Lawsuit
Often, victims of domestic violence have been robbed of their sense of control and of their emotional outlet. Suing your abuser can give you that sense of control and can provide a sense of emotional relief. The types of damages possibly available to domestic violence victims include:
- Lost wages;
- Medical expenses;
- Pain and suffering; and
- Punitive damages (only available in some states).
Keep in mind that a great deal of stress is involved in any lawsuit. Lawsuits involving family members can be even more stressful because of the strain placed on family ties. It is often hard enough for victims to even make a police report or file for a restraining order against their abusers. Taking the abuser to court may be just as difficult. However, once victims realize their position, they are ready to fight back. Taking their abuser to court may serve as closure for victims--a way to leave the past behind them and start fresh.
Litigation can be very expensive. However, courts can force the abuser to pay your fees. In lawsuits involving money damages, many attorneys work on contingency bases, meaning that the fee you pay them depends on the money amount the court awards you. When considering whether to file a domestic violence lawsuit, think about whether your abuser has money available to pay damages.
How to Get Help with your Domestic Violence Lawsuit
If you think you may have grounds for filing a domestic violence lawsuit, consult a litigation attorney. It is important to do this promptly, as many states have statutes of limitation -- a limited time period after the incident -- in which you can sue. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you if you have a good claim and what your rights and options are. The following organizations can help you find legal aid:
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline