In 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy. Claiming self-defense, his criminal trial ended in acquittal. Meanwhile, a family had lost their son.
In criminal cases such as these, the defendant is prosecuted according to the interests of the state, sometimes with relatively little emphasis on the victims of the crime. Despite Zimmerman being found not guilty, the Martin family had still suffered a tremendous loss. Following the verdict, the family filed and settled a civil lawsuit against the homeowners’ association where Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood watch.
Making civil claims in cases involving criminal misconduct is a fairly regular part of my legal practice. Several of my current cases involve situations where the police/district attorney investigated for possible criminal prosecution, such as:
- A killer who was determined to be insane and mentally unfit to stand criminal trial;
- A perpetrator who was referred to juvenile authorities; and
- People driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII).
Why a Civil Lawsuit?
Unlike criminal cases, civil lawsuits focus on the victim’s or survivor’s side of the case. It is the survivor or victim (the plaintiff), not the state, who helps to determine how the case is handled. The person or family who was wrongfully harmed will ultimately decide if the case is settled and, if so, under what terms.
While a criminal case decides whether a defendant is guilty, a civil lawsuit’s purpose is not only to ascertain the liability of the offender or any other parties who may have been responsible for the crime, but also to determine the harms and losses that were caused. A jury in a criminal case is instructed to find guilt only if there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury in a civil case is usually instructed to find liability if the evidence more strongly favors that finding. As a result, sometimes a civil case gives the survivor or the family of a victim a sense of justice that cannot be achieved in a criminal case.
In a civil case, if the defendant is found liable for the crime, they are almost always ordered to compensate the survivor or victim’s family. Compensation can often help to cover the costs of medical care, psychological treatment, loss of income, and losses of services and companionship.
Civil lawsuits can sometimes also be filed against other parties who share responsibility for the crime. For example, if the crime was committed at a hotel because the hotel company did not meet industry security safety standards, the hotel company could be held liable. The civil justice system exists not only to compensate victims, but to promote public safety by encouraging people and companies to meet their safety obligations. Because of this risk, of liability, most businesses will make reasonable efforts to ensure the safety of their customers and clients with up-to-date security systems and measures.
You can learn more about the civil justice system by visiting the web site for the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC).
This segment of The Law and You features Eugene, Oregon personal injury trial lawyer Lara Johnson talks of the growing concern about student athletes’ head injuries.
The Corson & Johnson Law Firm, a Eugene, Oregon personal injury trial law firm, produced and distributes The Law and You as a continuing public service to help Oregon families and consumers answer questions about our legal system and how it works for them. Each week, The Law and You spots are aired on KKNU, KMGE, KEUG, and KODZ in Eugene, Oregon. If you have suggestions of legal questions or topics you would like addressed by The Law and You, please visit our website at CorsonJohnsonLaw.com.
Following is the actual radio broadcast audio (in playable mp3 format) and the script from this broadcast of The Law and You.
Topic: Brain Injury Prevention (The Law and You Final Script-2009 in Eugene, OR)
Joel: This is Joel Block for The Law and You with Eugene attorney Don Corson. Don, you’ve represented people who have suffered brain injuries. I understand that there’s growing concern over student athletes’ head injuries.
Don: Joel, about 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur in our country each year. Too many are called concussions, but they actually can mean serious short-term and long-term brain damage to young athletes. Some schools prohibit an athlete who suffers a concussion from returning to the same game or even the sport without a proper evaluation. A proposed Oregon law requires interscholastic coaches to receive annual training to recognize symptoms and treat concussions. I encourage all coaches and parents to download a free copy of the Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports tool kit through a link on CorsonJohnsonLaw.com.
Joel: Thanks, Don. Please download Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports at CorsonJohnsonLaw.com. The Law and You is a public service and does not replace the advice of an attorney.