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Can the Victim of a Crime File a Civil Lawsuit for Damages?

Can the Victim of a Crime File a Civil Lawsuit for Damages?

Allegedly criminal activity that causes personal injury and property damage can leave its victims with substantial costs. Authorities pursue convictions against perpetrators of violent or destructive crimes through the criminal justice system, which is designed to improve public safety and punish bad behavior. The criminal justice system is not always going to succeed in compensating the victim of a crime for financial losses. Instead, the victim may wish to pursue a civil lawsuit against the accused.

Civil lawsuits offer numerous advantages for crime victims

The criminal justice system offers victims a number of important benefits. The government pays the costs of prosecution, using its own prosecutors and other legal resources, and the authority of law enforcement agencies is brought to bear. A criminal court can order convicted defendants to pay restitution to victims as part of its sentencing process. But in some cases a civil lawsuit offers victims significant advantages, such as:

  • Personalized strategy. Prosecutors have a range of concerns beyond the needs of victims, and often make deals with criminal defendants to shorten trials and save government resources. In a civil trial the attorneys representing the victim have only one goal: to serve the interest of their clients. Having control over a case empowers victims to pursue the compensation they know they deserve.
  • Broader scope of damages. A criminal court cannot award victims damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, or other costs that are not easily quantified. Such damages are available in civil trials.
  • Lower standard of proof. A criminal conviction can only be reached if the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard that often allows criminal defendants to escape convictions due to technicalities or clever argumentation by the defense. Civil causes of action require lower standards of proof. A plaintiff typically need only show that the defendant was liable by a preponderance of the evidence, that is, the plaintiff’s assertions are likely to be true. Perhaps the most famous example of these standards in action is the criminal and civil trials of O.J. Simpson for the murder of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Although his attorney’s famous line about the glove, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” worked in the criminal context by creating reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury, the victims’ estates successfully pursued a $25 million civil lawsuit against Simpson using the same facts.

Conviction is not required to pursue a civil case

Partly because the criminal process can take a long time and has an uncertain outcome, a civil lawsuit can be brought even when conviction is uncertain. In Nevada a criminal conviction is conclusive evidence of civil liability. NRS 41.133. Bear in mind that a plaintiff must still prove damages in a civil suit, and the defendant may still raise significant defenses even after being convicted. For example, a defendant convicted of a felony DUI could raise the argument of comparative negligence against an injured passenger to reduce the passenger’s compensation. Cromer v. Wilson, 126 Nev. 106 (2010).

The decision of whether to pursue a civil lawsuit requires careful consultation with an attorney. The attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have represented personal injury clients in the Las Vegas area for over 45 years. If you have been the victim of a crime call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or reach us through our contact page.