Criminal court is not the only way an assault victim can seek justice. A victim can sue their attacker for injuries sustained in an assault, regardless of whether the perpetrator is found guilty in criminal court.
When someone is arrested for allegedly committing a crime, the prosecutors decide whether the evidence supports filing charges. If the person is indicted, a complex process begins with the defendant entering a plea agreement or taking the case to a trial.
Restitution can be included in any sentence, but with limitations. Filing a civil lawsuit for intentional injuries can fill the gaps left by the criminal court. A civil lawsuit can also be filed if the perpetrator is acquitted or is never charged with the crime.
Criminal and Civil Courts Have Different Goals
Criminal and civil courts have different goals. Criminal cases are prosecuted by the state for the person’s alleged actions that violate state or federal laws. The goal of the criminal court is to punish the offender.
If the defendant is convicted, the judge has the authority to include restitution in addition to prison time and fines. Any restitution ordered is limited to monetary losses such as the following:
- Lost wages (during recovery as well as for time needed in court)
- Hospital bills
- Physical therapy
- Prescription costs
- Property damage
Restitution is mandatory upon conviction of certain crimes such as fraud and vandalism. Triple restitution is possible for property damages upon conviction of a hate crime.
The civil court is aimed at more fully restoring the victim. The state does not bring the case to court. The victim is the plaintiff in the case. The victim, with their attorney, initiates the case against the offender (defendant).
A civil judgment may include non-economic damages not allowable in criminal court:
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Lost enjoyment of life
Punitive damages are not available in most civil cases. This type of award is usually only given in egregious cases that result in wrongful death.
Criminal and Civil Courts Have Different Evidentiary Standards
The evidentiary standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is required for criminal cases. This requirement means that the jurors must be convinced that there is no other reasonable explanation from the evidence presented in court. These trials can potentially take someone’s freedom, so the bar is set high.
Civil court is different. The burden is a lower threshold called the preponderance of the evidence. The jurors in a civil trial must believe the defendant "more than likely" committed the act. This standard is often described as 50% plus the weight of a feather.
The different evidentiary standards can result in different outcomes. The defendant may be acquitted in the criminal trial and held liable in a civil trial. The lower evidentiary burden improves the chance of success.
One of the more famous examples is O.J. Simpson. He was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in his 1995 criminal trial. In 1997, a civil jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful death and battery of Brown and Goldman.
Civil Cases Can Proceed if Criminal Cases Do Not
Prosecutors choose not to move forward with a criminal case for various reasons. That decision does not impact a civil lawsuit. Victims can still have their day in court and be awarded damages for economic and non-economic losses.
Massachusetts places a statutory time limit on when a lawsuit can be filed. In most cases, the civil suit must be filed within 3 years of the assault.
We Fight for a Victim’s Full Restitution
Someone injured by an attacker often has immediate and long-lasting injuries. At the Percy Law Group, PC, we stand up for victims and fight for just compensation. Whether your injuries are from an accident that was not your fault or the commission of a crime, you have the right to hold the wrongdoer accountable.
If you have been injured during an assault or other crime, schedule a consultation to learn more about your rights. Contact us online or call (508) 206-9900. Your first consultation is free.