In addition to the offender, other parties may be legally responsible for harm to the approximately 19 million Americans crime victims in this country each year. Schools, hotels, governments and other entities and individuals may be liable in crime victim litigation if they were negligent. Victims should know their rights to commence a private lawsuit.
Outside parties may have civil liability even without criminal liability. Examples include:
- Landlords who have inadequate locks, lighting, and other security.
- Colleges with inadequate security or assault notification systems.
- Shopping malls without security guards or other precautions despite the potential for crime.
- People who allow or do not prevent childen from having access to weapons.
- Schools, childcare centers, and religious institutions that do not perform adequate employee background checks or transfer employees to other locations after abuse allegations.
- Taverns or social hosts who continue to serve alcohol to intoxicated guests.
Washington and other states provide criminal restitution to victims for costs such as medical and therapy expenses, medications and lost wages. Individuals convicted of certain crimes may be ordered to pay compensation to victims for their out-of-pocket costs. But restitution and compensation may not cover the victim’s full economic losses or hard-to-quantify harm such as pain and suffering.
In addition to lawsuits against a negligent third party, victims may file lawsuits against the offender for civil actions corresponding to crimes. These include assault, battery, wrongful death, false imprisonment, intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, fraud or the theft or destruction of personal property.
Victims, if they win, may be entitled to compensatory damages for their losses and punitive damages to punish offenders and deter conduct. Some defendants may be unable to pay judgments but there are other sources such as insurance and other income types.
Before these lawsuits, victims should prepare facts and evidence. This includes information on the crime, such as when it occurred, location, how the offender gained access to the victim, witnesses, physical evidence, any police reports and any third-party liability.
Information on the perpetrator includes any relationship to the victim, their identity, address, birthdate, employment, Social Security number and their assets and insurance. If their identity is unknown, a physical description is important.
Evidence on damages includes injury information, treatment costs incurred and anticipated, treatment providers, property damage and lost wages. Funds from insurance, workers’ compensation and criminal compensation or restitution is needed.
Civil actions must be filed within a specified time. Attorneys can assist crime victims.