There are many reasons why domestic violence victims may not feel that the criminal courts give them the justice they need to move on from what has happened to them. When criminal convictions are elusive or the injuries suffered are not financial, police and prosecutors are sometimes helpless to right the wrongs done. Through a variety of civil claims and a longer statute of limitations, domestic violence victims can find justice in civil court when criminal consequences fall short.
Unfortunately, criminal cases against domestic abusers fall apart every day. Police errors can eliminate crucial evidence. Jurors can see things in unexpected ways. Even when an abuser pleads guilty to domestic violence, the consequences of that plea can often be underwhelming, and the justice received by the victims can be incomplete.
The good news is that domestic violence victims always have another option in addition to, or in place of, the criminal charges against their abuser. They may also file civil lawsuits based on a number of personal injury theories. These lawsuits give domestic violence survivors options in the types of cases to file, when to file them, and what compensation they receive.
California has a specific statute that allows for civil lawsuits against domestic violence abusers. This law says that the victims of abuse can sue for physical, emotional, financial, and psychological harm caused by a member (or members) of her or his household, family, or relationship. That includes current and former spouses, roommates and dating partners; co-parents of a child; parents; children; blood relatives; and in-laws. Depending on what happened, domestic violence victims may also have personal injury claims for:
Each of these “tort” claims have their own legal proof that must be presented. Many overlap with domestic violence claims and each other. By raising all the claims that apply in your case, you and your domestic violence attorney can make sure that you will be compensated even if some part of your case doesn’t work out as you had hoped.
One difficult part of deciding whether to file a civil lawsuit in the wake of a sexual assault is facing the decision to testify about what was done to you. Many sexual assault victims take years to heal to the point that they are ready to face their abusers and get justice for what was done. It used to be that California law urged them to hurry that timeline, forcing a choice between healing and compensation.
Until this year, sexual assault victims only had two or three years from the date the injury or illness was discovered (or reasonably should have been discovered) to file their claim. However, beginning January 1, 2019, that period has been extended to 10 years. (The statute of limitations under the domestic violence statute has not changed). This extended statute of limitations gives sexual assault victims the time they need to become survivors before facing their abusers in court.
When domestic violence victims rely on criminal prosecutors to protect their rights, they often find that they receive less protection and compensation than they need. California Penal Code Section 273.5 is the most common criminal charge for domestic violence cases. This charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances, the physical injury caused, and the abuser’s criminal history. However, a first-time conviction could result in as little as summary probation and a monetary fine. Your abuser may not even go to jail.
The financial compensation in a criminal case can also leave domestic violence victims wanting more. While victims of criminal cases are entitled to restitution compensation for the actual financial cost connected to the crime, domestic violence often carries with it far more harm than shows up in your receipts. Even when restitution is entered as part of an abuser sentence, you may not actually be paid since restitution orders often go unenforced.
This is where a civil domestic violence lawsuit can help fill the gaps. Personal injury lawsuits based on domestic violence allow for a broad range of damage claims, including:
Your civil lawsuit can also seek to enforce the Order of Restitution as a civil judgment, and can include a request for a protective order cutting off your abuser’s access to you and ending the pattern of dominance and control.
If you are a domestic violence victim, California has made it easier for you to be compensated for what has happened to you by giving you more options and, in the case of sexual assault, more time to file your civil lawsuit. But you still need to act. At ADZ Law, LLP, we can help. We will take you through the civil litigation process, supporting you so that it is an empowering experience, instead of a traumatizing event. We represent domestic violence victims in San Mateo County and the surrounding region of California. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you.