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Civil Personal Injury Claims Related to Criminal Investigations, Prosecutions, or Criminal Harm
Over the past two decades, Michael Lowe has taken a great many cases to trial in civil lawsuits as well as in criminal courtrooms, first as a prosecutor for the Office of the District Attorney for Dallas County and later, as a criminal defense attorney representing clients being investigated or charged with state and federal crimes. He is among the less-than-one percent elite of the State Bar of Texas that is Board Certified in Criminal Law, having first earned certification in 2007.
More and more often, Mr. Lowe is witnessing an overlap between the civil and criminal justice systems. With his background in civil litigation, he has seen firsthand how individuals involved with the criminal justice system may not know or be aware of certain avenues to justice involving personal injury causes of action that are available to them.
In the Texas civil justice system, a crime is an intentional act referred to as a “tort.” Most of the crimes defined in the Texas Penal Code have a corresponding tort defined within the state civil law. These include things like: Assault; False Imprisonment; Fraud; Negligence; and Wrongful Death.
Accordingly, in addition to his criminal defense practice Michael Lowe represents targets of crime and those who have been wrongly accused of criminal acts in certain situations where Texas negligence and/or intentional tort law may provide help and relief for the harms they have suffered.
These matters include the following:
1. Children Who Have Been Victims of Sex Crimes or Child Abuse
Children who have been the victims of sex crimes and/or child abuse in a domicile or residence where a homeowner’s insurance policy may provide the minor child with injury damage compensation (i.e., an exception to the homestead exemption based upon forfeiture precedent).
2. Teens, Young Adults, and Others Who Have Been Falsely Accused of Shoplifting at a Store
Individuals falsely accused of shoplifting by store managers or employees, who may be able to seek injury damages based upon causes of action that include false imprisonment and defamation, as well as assault, negligence, and other bases.
3. Victims of Fatal Drunk Driving or Drugged Driving Accidents
For those who perish in a motor vehicle accident caused by drunk driving or drugged driving, both their estate and their loved ones (i.e., spouse, minor children, etc.) may be able to seek significant injury damages based upon negligent supervision in a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) fatality incident as well as other potential civil injury bases.
These can include a direct claim asserted against a driver who is facing criminal charges for the drunk driving accident, such as Intoxication Assault, Intoxication Manslaughter, or Manslaughter. Claims may also be available against the owner of the vehicle that was being driven by the impaired driver. The owner may be liable for negligently supervision of the impaired or drunk driver. This can include a parent who loans out their car to their teenage son or daughter, who gets drunk and kills someone else in the family car.
4. Victims of Fatal Accidents Caused by On-the-Job Driver
Employers may be legally responsible for the injuries caused by their employees while they are on the clock. When there is a fatal traffic collision (car crash, semi-truck accident, etc.), various crimes may be related to the accident’s cause. Maybe a driver fell asleep at the wheel after failing to abide by the federal Hour-of-Service (HOS) rules for commercial truck drivers. Maybe a driver was driving impaired by amphetamines and in violation of the law because his employer was insisting upon a deadline being met.
If the driver whose actions (or failure to act) was on the job at the time of impact, then his employer may share responsibility for what has occurred. Personal injury and wrongful claims may be available for the decedent’s estate as well as his loved ones based upon various causes of action such as respondeat superior, negligent entrustment, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and vicarious liability.
5. Residents of Nursing Homes Who Are Victims of Abuse or Neglect
Nursing homes and care centers may be held liable to their residents for abuse and neglect damages if the individual has suffered injuries to the extent that they have risen to criminal acts and/or gross negligence as that is defined under Texas law.
6. Wards of a Texas Probate Guardianship or Estate Administration
Anyone who has been legally made a ward under Texas guardianship law, as well as any beneficiary in a probate estate administration, and their loved ones may be able to seek personal injury damages insofar as financial abuse suffered at the hands of a guardian or trustee in a Texas Probate Guardianship or an Estate Administration.
7. Seniors or Elders Financially Harmed by Someone They Trust
Seniors or elders who suffer financial harm from someone they trust may be able to sue for civil injury damages. This often involves allegations of a breach of fiduciary duty. In these cases, it is very common for elderly folks to sign power of attorney over their financial affairs to a friend or family member. This person becomes a fiduciary for the elder’s property (estate), which imposes certain legal duties of care on their activities. If they fail to comply with Texas fiduciary laws, then there may be a civil injury claim available to the person who has been wronged.
8. Those Injured during a Crime (Assault, Murder, Injury to Child or Elder)
Targets of crime may be able to seek personal injury damages from the property owner when they have been hurt on the premises during the commission of a criminal act. Intentional acts that have resulted in personal injuries at homes or businesses (e.g., night clubs, apartment communities, nursing homes, or child day care facilities) may support the property owner or operator’s legal liability for what has occurred on the premises.
An example here includes a college or university that failed to provide adequate lighting and security during a sexual assault on a student, faculty member, or staff. Another example here would be a landlord who failed to provide adequate security measures including locks on doors and windows that allowed a crime to occur.
The underlying criminal act may include assaults; murder; sexual assaults; indecency with a child; injury to a child; injury to an elderly person; or any other serious felony involving violence or harm. Under Texas personal injury law, civil claims may be available to these targets of crime based upon causes of action that range from negligence or negligent supervision to a variety of intentional torts (including assault).
9. Those Hurt at Work Site or at Work-Related Event by a Criminal Act
When someone is seriously injured or killed while at work, or at a work-related event, then criminal charges may be filed against the individual who physically caused the harm. However, the injured person’s employer may also have legal liability for their bodily injuries under Texas Law. In our state, intentional torts can be filed against the owner, upper management, or the alter ego owner of the workplace based upon various crimes including assaults, sexual assaults, false imprisonment, or unlawful restraint that take place in the workplace or at work related events.
Personal Injury Damages Available in Civil Cases Related to Criminal Matters
Anyone who has suffered personal injuries that correlate to the commission of a criminal act may be able to obtain significant monetary damages through the filing of a civil lawsuit based upon Texas personal injury law.
These individuals, and in some instances their immediate family members, maybe able to obtain both economic (e.g., medical bills) and noneconomic damages (e.g., pain and suffering) as well as exemplary (punitive) damages in a civil lawsuit.
Those who have been hurt due to the actions or failure to act by another party who had a legal duty of care to that person which, when breached, caused their harm, may be able to obtain financial compensation from them, including:
- Medical care and treatment, past and future
- Psychological care and treatment, present and future
- Rehabilitation and therapy, past and future
- Long term care needs (medical equipment, nursing home, etc.)
- Lost wages
- Future loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering.
What about the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Program?
In Texas, the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program (TCVCP) exists to provide victims of violent crime with help in dealing with expenses, and upon approval of an application the individual may receive some money from the TCVCP to help with things like:
- Medical, hospital, physical therapy or nursing care
- Psychiatric care or counseling
- Loss of earnings or support
- Loss of wages due to participation in, or attendance at, the investigation, prosecutorial and judicial processes, and travel
- Care of a child or a dependent
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Crime scene clean-up
- Replacement costs for clothing, bedding, or property seized as evidence or rendered unusable as a result of the investigation
- Reasonable attorney fees for assistance in filing the Crime Victims’ Compensation application and in obtaining benefits, if the claim is approved
- Loss of wages and travel to seek medical treatment
- One time relocation expenses for domestic violence victims or for those sexual assault victims attacked in their own residence.
However, there are several issues with the TCVCP. Prosecutors have no duty to be involved in any way with the TCVCP process. It is up to the individual to learn about the program and then to file a complete and timely application. Not only do most people not get any money from the TCVCP, but the TCVCP does not cover the totality of their injury even if their application is filed and accepted. Property damages, for instance, are not included in the TCVCP. Neither are damages like pain and suffering. For more, read “Crime Survivors Speak: Texas Victims’ Experiences With Recovery and Views on Criminal Justice,” published by the Alliance for Safety and Justice in April 2019.
Moreover, funding of the TCVCP may be an issue. Tax dollars, for instance, are not used to pay for the program. See, “Crime Victims’ Compensation: General Overview,” published by the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Texas, Ken Paxton.
For those who are eligible, there is no legal bar to filing an application with the TCVCP for funds while investigating and pursuing a civil claim for injury damages. Upon settlement or jury award, the plaintiff can then reimburse any money that they got from the TCVCP out of the lawsuit proceeds.
Filing a Civil Injury Claim Related to Criminal Act
In a criminal court, the prosecutor represents the state in a prosecution of someone accused of violating a criminal law. Anyone harmed by the criminal activity will most likely be a witness in that proceeding but they will not be able to seek monetary damages through the criminal justice system. This is done in the civil courts.
A civil lawsuit allows the injured person to seek compensation for the damages they have suffered so they can move forward in their lives. The civil justice system allows the individual to seek justice directly from those who are legally liable for what has happened. It may also allow third parties (like employers or property owners) to be held financially responsible alongside the person accused of the criminal activity.
Civil claims are easier to prove than criminal matters. The burden of proof on a plaintiff is less than it is on a prosecutor. In an injury case, liability can be established by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which is much less than the criminal prosecutor’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
The result can mean that someone who is found “not guilty” in a criminal proceeding can still be found financially responsible in a civil injury case. A well-known example: O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murder of Ron Goldman, but later was found liable for civil wrongful death damages brought by Goldman’s Estate and family members. See, “Lawyers Chase O.J. Simpson over $70M Wrongful Death Judgment,” written by the Associated Press and published by USA Today on January 30, 2018.
Statute of Limitations
The Texas Legislature has set clear deadlines for filing civil injury lawsuits. These are called “statutes of limitations.” If the claim is filed past this deadline, then it will be dismissed by the judge. It will not matter how unjust that might be – the deadline will bar the claim.
However, there are extensions to these limitations deadlines that may apply in some situations. For instance, minor children have additional time to file their claims. A child seeking compensation for a sex crime injury will have longer time to file that injury lawsuit than an adult seeking compensation for a sexual assault, for instance.
Hiring a Criminal Defense – Civil Injury Trial Lawyer
Texas’ civil justice system provides an independent opportunity for justice in the aftermath of wrongdoing. While the money awarded in these civil matters cannot offer true and complete compensation to those who have been made targets of crime, these civil claims do offer hope for a clear future and the ability to move forward in rebuilding lives.
Having an attorney experienced in both criminal and civil proceedings can be an invaluable asset to those seeking civil injury damages in the aftermath of a criminal act.
Michael Lowe welcomes you to contact the Law Offices of Michael Lowe to schedule a free initial consultation.