How Domestic Violence Personal Injury Lawsuits Empower Women
(And Get Them Back On Their Feet)
Domestic Violence personal injury has been a hot topic recently due to the video that surfaced of Ray Rice punching unconscious his then fiancé, now wife, in an elevator, and then sloppily dragging her halfway out of the elevator, leaving her there for a few minutes until she regained consciousness. When Rice’s wife apologized to the public for her “actions” (what?!) and continued to defend Rice, we were naturally puzzled. Why would a person stay in a relationship with another person who treats her head like a punching bag? Many articles have highlighted this subject on social media, trending the topic with the hashtag #WhyIStayed. These articles address the psychological aspects of domestic violence: The relationship’s manic-depressant ups and downs, the psychological abuse that often accompanies physical abuse, the fear of being found by the abuser and thereby experiencing even worse domestic violence personal injury than before, and the victim succumbing to the natural parental instinct that children are more safe if the victim is there to protect them, as opposed to leaving them in the hands of the abuser where they are subject to domestic violence personal injury themselves. While it is very important for a victim of domestic violence to understand for themselves why they are staying, it is also important for a victim of domestic violence to know his or her options when it comes to being made whole after they leave. “I have options? As in plural?” Most victims of domestic violence think that pressing criminal charges is their only option for a remedy. Indeed, it is an option: pressing charges could possibly achieve a restraining order, jail time, a record that abuse has occurred in the past, and it could be persuasive when custody is an issue. But for the childless or those who do not want to send their abuser to jail or prison, there is another option. A victim of domestic violence can sue their abuser in civil court and be compensated for the injuries sustained from the abuse with the help of a personal injury lawyer by pursuing a domestic violence personal injury lawsuit. In the past, the law did not allow family members to sue one another because the court feared that this would encourage the breakdown of the family unit. Most states have overturned this rule, recognizing that if domestic violence is occurring, chances are the family unit is already broken down. Pennsylvania has agreed with the modern trend that family members have a right to have their day in court if they were wronged by another family member, such as a spouse. Suing civilly would achieve a more practical purpose. Domestic violence can result in devastating bodily harm, such as broken bones, head trauma, lacerations, loss of eyesight (if the victim had a severe blow to the eye), organ damage, and even death. Personal injury is very costly and some victims might be concerned with how to pay their medical bills, and a victim’s family members might want compensation for the loss of their loved one if the victim dies at the hands of the abuser. In domestic violence personal injury lawsuits, the lawsuit is in civil court and the defendant (i.e., the abuser) is being sued for financial compensation. In other words, the abuser will not be sent to jail or prison when sued civilly. Domestic violence personal injury lawsuits are attractive to some victims—they do not want the commotion of criminally charging their abuser (some want to forget it ever happened) but they are not opposed to getting reimbursed for the injuries they sustained. Depending on the severity of the injury, the victim’s pain and suffering, and the permanency of the injury, a jury can award the victim or the victim’s estate up to millions upon millions of dollars. Think of the OJ Simpson trial. He was charged both in criminal and civil court. In the criminal court, the jurors could only find Simpson guilty if, when looking at the evidence in its entirety, there could be no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person that Simpson is guilty of murdering his wife. This is the highest standard the judicial system imposes and it is difficult to surpass. In Simpson’s case, the jury had doubt that would affect a reasonable person’s belief that Simpson was guilty, and therefore the jury was not satisfied “beyond a reasonable doubt,” resulting in Simpson’s finding of not-guilty. But then why is Simpson bankrupt? While the criminal court imposes the highest standard (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) the civil court has a lesser standard called “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Therefore, it is very possible for a man to be found not-guilty in the criminal court, but guilty in the civil court, based upon the same set of events. In fact, this is what happened to OJ Simpson. While the prosecution did not have enough evidence to strip Simpson of his fundamental rights and send him to jail (thanks to the famous Kardashians sisters’ father), there was enough evidence to surpass the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in civil court to warrant taking a very large sum of money from Simpson to compensate his wife’s family for the wrongful death of their loved one. So large that the famous and rich football player went bankrupt. Oftentimes, victims of domestic abuse must stay in their dangerous households because they do not have the finances to leave. So they stay, and some do not make it. Sometimes the children do not make it, either. The option to sue civilly gives the victim a chance to be made whole again and it gives them a new lease on life. That money is food for the children, rent for the new apartment (far away from the abuser), gas money (for driving far away from the abuser) tuition for schools, counselling to mitigate any scarring the abuse might have had on the children or the victim, and other unforeseen expenses directly caused by the abuser’s actions. It should be noted that “The Drueding Center: A Holy Redeemer Life Care Community” does wonderful work with women fleeing from domestic violence, and should be contacted for advice, safe houses, and resources if the need arises. If you or someone you know has a domestic violence personal injury, there is a way out. Know your options. Speak up.