Civil justice for victims of crimes: What you should know

Victims of a crime in Pennsylvania may be able to recover compensation through filing a civil lawsuit.

There are a number of ways in which a crime could leave a victim hurting. Physical injuries, such as those that occur with an assault, could have repercussions that last for months and even years. People in Pennsylvania who suffer such an experience may also, understandably, be in emotional distress for a long period of time. Lastly, there are the financial losses that occur, whether due to theft or having to pay for medical bills.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania law empowers victims of a crime to hold certain parties financially responsible for the damages they encounter. Here, we take a look at some commonly asked questions.

Why should I file a claim if the defendant was found guilty in criminal court?

The purpose of a criminal law case is to hold a defendant accountable for breaking the law. Punishments often include a fine or jail time. In Pennsylvania, a judge may also award restitution to the victim. However, a criminal court ruling does not take into account all the losses that a victim has experienced. Additionally, the state controls the prosecution of the case.

In a civil case, the victim has more control of the case, such as choosing to negotiate a settlement. Additionally, even if the defendant is found not guilty of the crime, the victim of the crime may still pursue - and potentially win - civil damages.

Is there a timeframe by which I must initiate my claim?

Yes. The Pennsylvania statute of limitations regarding personal injury related to a crime varies depending on the incident. Victims must file their claim within the following timeframes:

  • One year: Claims for libel or slander
  • Two years: Claims for theft, battery, negligent conduct and assault
  • Four years: Claims for identity theft

If the claim involves a government entity, the victim must give notice to the government body involved before filing the suit and within six months of the incident.

Who may be listed in a civil claim?

Obviously, the perpetrator of the crime may be listed as the defendant in a civil case. However, there may be other parties that could be held accountable. For example, in an instance of school bullying, the school itself may be listed, depending on their culpability.

What is the Pennsylvania Crime Victim Compensation Program?

Outside civil lawsuits, there is the Pennsylvania Crime Victim Compensation Program, which could award up to as much as $35,000 to people who have suffered a crime. However, this program does not take into account damages that a civil suit would, such as emotional pain and suffering.

Additionally, the program has a number of requirements. For example, the crime must have been reported within three days of occurring, it must have happened in Pennsylvania, the victim must cooperate with police and the victim must not have been involved in illegal activity linked to the crime.

Suffering the effects of a crime could last a lifetime. Anyone who has concerns about this topic should speak with a victim's representation attorney in Pennsylvania.