If you have been the victim of domestic violence you may be able to bring a lawsuit against your abuser to be compensated for the abuse you have endured. This can enable you to build a new life for yourself and your children that is free from violence.
Acts of domestic violence give rise not only to criminal liability but to civil liability as well. Tort law provides a legal avenue for the victims of domestic violence to hold their abusers financially accountable for the damage they have inflicted.
A tort is an act or an omission that can cause injury or harm to a person, which results in a civil liability for the perpetrator. Since domestic violence is an act which causes injury to another, the victims of domestic violence can file a civil lawsuit to recover damages.
Civil cases vs. criminal cases
People are often confused by the notion that the same action can result in both a civil case and a criminal case. But in fact, one is no bar to the other.
For example, if someone dies as a result of another’s reckless behavior, the state may initiate a criminal case against the person responsible for the charges of homicide. Concurrently, the family of the deceased person may bring a civil case against that person for wrongful death, on behalf of the person that was killed.
The fundamental difference between a criminal case and a civil case lies in what is at stake. In a criminal case, the defendant (if found guilty) may be facing jail time and/or a strike against their criminal record. While in a civil case, the defendant (if found liable) may be required to compensate the plaintiff for any losses they have sustained due to the defendant’s negligent behavior.
Suing your spouse
Traditionally, one spouse was prohibited from suing the other. This was referred to as spousal immunity. However, over the last century, many of the laws that supported spousal immunity have been abolished.
But, even in states, where spousal immunity is still recognized, exceptions exist for acts such as sexual abuse. Some states even allow exceptions for injuries sustained in an automobile accident in which your spouse was driving. And almost all states allow you to sue your spouse if he or she has committed an intentional tort against you.
An intentional tort is any act done to deliberately cause harm to another. Since the various manifestations of domestic violence (i.e. assault and battery, psychological abuse, harassment, intimidation, and the destruction of property) are deliberate by nature, the victims of domestic violence typically have strong grounds for a lawsuit against an abusive spouse.
Compensation for domestic violence
Domestic violence can cause the victims to feel helpless and not in control of their lives. But, bringing a domestic violence lawsuit against their abuser can empower them and imbue them with a new sense of control, both physically and emotionally.
The types of damages recoverable in a domestic violence lawsuit include:
- General damages: Pains and suffering, future problems, and effects of injury, such as any resulting disability, emotional distress, humiliation, or physical scars.
- Special damages: These are quantifiable damages that were caused by the injury, such as hospital bills, lost wages, and property damage.
- Punitive damages: Typically, these are only awarded as additional punishment when the defendant acted in a particularly malicious, violent, fraudulent, or oppressive manner.
- Nominal damages: These are damages that are awarded when the actual harm was minor, but some type of award is warranted because the circumstances require there to be some type of financial penalty.
In addition, a judge or jury may require the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for other things such as reasonable attorney fees and court costs.
Factors of consideration before filing a lawsuit
What makes domestic violence lawsuits complicated to pursue is the fact that accusations of domestic violence are often complicated by extreme emotions and it is not unusual for the alleged victim, perpetrator, and witnesses to all have different recollections of how the alleged abuse occurred.
This leaves the judge or jury in the difficult position of having to use their own judgment to determine what the truth is, often based solely on who told the most believable story and/or the existence of physical injuries to one person or the other.
Furthermore, domestic violence lawsuits can have severe consequence for both the accused and the accuser, above and beyond the financial implications. They can cause a great deal of familial strife and destroy the relationships that both the alleged victim and perpetrator have with their children, relatives, and friends.
Finally, like all lawsuits, a domestic violence lawsuit can be very expensive to pursue. Fortunately, many personal injury attorneys handle cases on a contingency basis. This means that the plaintiff will not be required to pay any legal fees or costs until a recovery is made on their behalf. At which time their attorney will be paid from the money he recovers from the defendant.
So, when considering whether or not to file a domestic violence lawsuit, one needs to determine whether they have the evidence to prove the harm that has been perpetrated against them and if it will be worth it in terms of the stress on their family, the emotional relief it may bring them, and the amount of compensation they may be able to recover.