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Representing Survivors and Crime Victims

Abuse Survivors and Crime Victims:

No matter what the result of a criminal prosecution might be, or even if there was no prosecution commenced at all, crime victims and abuse survivors can file civil lawsuits against offenders and other responsible parties.

A civil case is separate from a criminal case and civil courts attempt to ascertain whether an offender or a third party is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of the crime. If defendants are found civilly liable, courts may order them to pay monetary damages to victims. While money awarded in civil lawsuits can never fully compensate a victim for the trauma of victimization or the loss of a loved one, it can be a valuable resource to help crime victims rebuild their lives. Moreover, the exposure to civil liability is a powerful incentive for landlords, businesses, and other proprietors to enact the security measures necessary to prevent future victimizations.
A significant difference between the criminal and civil court systems is that in a civil case the victim controls essential decisions shaping the case. It is the victim who decides whether to sue, accept a settlement offer, or go to trial.

There are other significant differences between criminal and civil cases:

The criminal justice process begins after a crime has been committed and investigated by law enforcement. An arrest may be made and then charges filed against the offender to commence a prosecution. In a criminal prosecution, crimes are considered to be crimes against the peace and dignity of the state. The victim’s role is primarily defined as a witness for the prosecution. Although the prosecuting attorney will likely be very helpful to the victim and the victim’s family, the prosecutor ultimately represents the interests of the state, not the victim. The criminal justice process judges the guilt or innocence of accused offenders, and when offenders are found guilty they are sentenced by a judge in an effort to punish, rehabilitate and protect the public from them.

The civil justice system does not attempt to determine the innocence or guilt of an offender. Offenders are also not put in prison. Rather, civil courts attempt to determine whether an offender or a third party is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of the crime. A civil court finding of liability usually means that the defendant must pay the victim, or the victim’s family, monetary damages. The civil justice system can provide victims with monetary resources necessary to rebuild their lives. Furthermore, the civil justice system often provides victims and their families with a sense of justice that criminal courts may fail to provide. Rather than holding defendants accountable for their crimes against the peace and dignity of the state, the civil justice system holds defendants directly accountable to their victims.

Another important difference between the civil and criminal justice system is the burden of proof. In the civil justice system, liability must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the plaintiff must prove there is a fifty-one percent or greater chance that the defendant committed all the elements of the particular wrong. This standard is far lower than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a conviction in the criminal justice system. Therefore, it is sometimes possible to find the defendant liable in a civil case even though a verdict of not guilty was rendered in the criminal case or if the offender was never even prosecuted criminally.

Crime Prevention is another issue to consider when deciding whether to file a civil claim. In addition to suing perpetrators, victims can often sue other responsible parties. Civil actions provide economic incentives for crime prevention. Businesses such as hotels, apartments, universities and shopping centers sometimes fail to enact proper security measures because they view such expenses as unnecessary. When businesses are held accountable for safety lapses, proper security ends up being less expensive than the cost of defending lawsuits. Crime victims’ civil suits result in increased security protection in public places, better oversight and supervision of facilities, and countless other improvements

If you are a victim of crime, you have legal rights guaranteed by both the Oregon Constitution and Oregon Revised Statutes. Your right to justice includes the right to:
• A meaningful role in the criminal or juvenile justice process
• Be treated with dignity and respect
• Fair and impartial treatment
• Reasonable protection from the offender

If you or a loved one are the victim of a crime or a survivor of abuse, contact us so we can discuss your options and make sure you are aware of all of your rights.

Types of Civil Lawsuits There are numerous claims under which civil actions may be brought. They include wrongful death, assault and battery, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. Some of these actions are described below. In civil cases, the crime or wrongful act is referred to as a tort. For most criminal offenses, there is a corresponding tort for which a crime victim may bring a civil suit.

Some examples of torts include:

Assault – putting the victim in fear of immediate injury while the perpetrator has the ability to inflict that injury.

Battery – intentional physical contact with a person without that person’s consent. Battery includes the crimes of sexual battery, rape, molestation, forcible sodomy, malicious wounding, and attempted murder.

Wrongful Death – a death caused by another person which occurs without justification or excuse, including murder, manslaughter, and vehicular homicide.

False Imprisonment – holding a victim against his or her will for any amount of time, no matter how brief. This often occurs in rape and kidnaping situations.

Intentional or Reckless Infliction of Emotional Distress – causing a victim emotional distress or anxiety through extreme and offensive conduct. Emotional distress is frequently seen in stalking cases.

Fraud – an intentional misrepresentation of facts made to deceive the victim, resulting in damages. This is often seen in white collar or economic crimes such as criminal fraud, telemarketing schemes, or racketeering.

Conversion – the theft or destruction of personal property or money. This includes larceny, concealment, and embezzlement.

Negligence – the failure to use such care as a reasonably prudent person would use under similar circumstances, when such failure is the cause of the plaintiff’s injury.