Victims of Violent Crimes
When a rapist, child molester or drunk driver strikes, the emotional and financial impact may be irreparable. Physical injuries and emotional scars may have lasting consequences for both the victim and his or her family.
In the course of a criminal proceeding to prosecute the perpetrator, the memory of the experience will be relived again and again as the case proceeds through one hearing after another. Thus the lives of the victims are further disrupted in the course of bringing the criminal to trial and incarceration.
This article will explore the legal remedies you may have for obtaining compensation for the loss you have suffered. It will also serve as a guide to the proceedings that follow in a typical path of a criminal proceeding and subsequent civil litigation.
Payment For Losses
- Victim's Fund
- Criminal Court Restitution
- Civil Lawsuit Against Other Parties
- Insurance Coverage
- Losses To Other Family Members
- When Must a Claim be Made
The State of California has established a Victim's Assistance Program to reimburse you, up to certain specified limits, for medical and wage losses. A Victim Assistance Center has been established in each county to process the claims of those who have been injured at the hands of a criminal. Under the program, you are entitled to compensation for out-of-pocket losses so long as you are not a co-participant in a criminal activity at the time. Generally, a claim must be filed within one year of the incident in order to qualify. Compensated medical losses include therapy sessions, as appropriate, and general medical care. However, neither property losses nor pain and suffering are compensated.
At the time of sentencing in every criminal proceeding, the judge will order the convicted criminal to pay you for any financial losses you have suffered. You will be contacted by a representative of the County Probation Department prior to the sentencing of the defendant. He or she will ask you to establish your out-of-pocket losses including lost wages, medical expenses, and damage to your property. Civil Lawsuit Against the Criminal: You have the right to sue a criminal defendant in a civil cause of action for the injuries that you sustained. If successful, you may recover for your financial losses whether or not they were covered by insurance or by other sources, and additionally, you may recover for your pain and suffering. Future anticipated medical loses as well as future pain and suffering are also compensated in a civil lawsuit. In addition to compensation for damages, you may be entitled to punitive damages which are designed to punish the defendant for his conduct and to make an example of him to others.
You may also have a cause of action against other parties whose negligence or special relationship allowed the criminal conduct to occur. For instance, a person who negligently entrusted their vehicle to an obviously drunk driver, could be sued (separate and apart from the drunk driver) for damages caused as a result of an automobile accident. Likewise, the owner of an apartment complex that failed to provide adequate security may be civilly liable in damages for the conduct of a rapist intruder. A school may be responsible for the criminal molest perpetrated by one of its teachers.
The person who has injured you may have Homeowner's or Renter's Insurance, Automobile Insurance, or professional Malpractice Insurance. Whether or not an insurance policy of the perpetrator will provide compensation to you for your losses will depend on a determination as to whether the acts committed were intentional. The general rule is that insurance protection will not cover intentional acts. Auto policies will only cover acts of the insured in a vehicle, and home policies exclude injuries caused by a vehicle.
Not all seemingly criminal conduct is intentional for insurance coverage purposes, however. The California Supreme Court has declared that if a perpetrator is unable to appreciate the consequences of his conduct as a result of a mental disease or defect or intoxication, he may be criminally responsible and his insurance company will still have to pay the victim for the harm done. This is true even if the perpetrator is convicted in a criminal court for his crime. Thus, in certain situations, an insurance protection policy issued to the perpetrator of a crime will pay you an award for your losses either as a settlement of your case or following a judgment as a result of a civil lawsuit. Other parties whose negligent conduct permitted the acts of the criminal to occur may also be covered by insurance.
Your own Automobile or Homeowner's or Renter's policies may contain clauses providing for reimbursement for medical expenses. A medical payment provision in your insurance policy applies, generally, whether or not the person who acted to cause the harm did so negligently or intentionally. If the injuries that you sustained resulted from an incident involving an automobile, your own uninsured or underinsured motorist policy provisions may provide compensation for your pain and suffering in addition to your medical losses and wage losses.
Health insurance policies provide for medical coverage while disability insurance policies provide protection should you be disabled as a result of the criminal incident. In general, you should review the many insurance options with aqualified attorney so as to maximize your compensation for the loss that you have suffered.
In California, the spouse of an injured party may have a cause of action in his or her own right for suffering experienced as a result of the injury to his or her partner. The family of one who has been killed may have a cause of action for their individual losses including loss of affection and loss of support.
A family relation or a person in an "unmarried" spousal relationship, who is present at the time of the injury or arrives shortly thereafter, may also have a right to recover for his or her own personal losses both financially and emotionally.
There are many rules affecting your right to claim compensation for an injury. Your right to seek money for your losses is dictated by specific rules of court as well as rules contained within your own insurance policies. Therefore, it is essential that you consult with a qualified attorney as soon as possible to ensure that all claims are made in a timely manner.