Victims of Crime

What is the legal basis for suing as a crime victim? A victim of crime will often have the ability to seek damages from the perpetrator through a civil action (lawsuit). A civil action is based on an area of law known as tort law. Tort is a word used in civil law to describe a wrong committed against an individual or organization. For example, when a person unjustifiably strikes another person, it may be both a crime of assault and a tort of battery.

The Criminal Case and The Civil Action
The criminal case is all about the protection of the public. The crime is investigated by the police, prosecuted by the Crown counsel and decided in the criminal court. The goal is punishment of the offender and protection of the public. In the criminal process the victim is a witness and has no official role in the system and has no “say” in whether the matter ever goes to criminal court or not. The criminal action is really about protecting the public generally against crime.
The civil action is totally separate. It is about the “debt” that the perpetrator owes to the victim. It is a personal remedy which allows the crime victim to obtain compensation directly from the wrongdoer. It is a remedy that exists regardless of whether a criminal case between the Crown and the accused ever even occurs.

Is this a new concept?
No. In fact civil actions for criminal acts have been part of the law in Canada and England for centuries. Civil courts in England were awarding damages against wrongdoers for several hundred years, even before criminal codes were formally codified and police forces were officially organized.

What are some examples of cases where victims have successfully recovered damages from perpetrators?
In a recent case, lawyers from Cameron Richards successfully obtained damages in excess of $300,000 against an employee who stole from his employer over a two-year period. The criminal case against the same person is still before the courts.

What are the benefits for victims in pursuing a civil action?
There are many reasons that a civil action appeals to crime victims.
In a criminal case the crime victim is not part of the decision making process. The prosecutor (Crown Counsel) decides whether to lay charges and what penalties to seek. In a civil action the victim has control of the case. Plaintiff crime victims choose their own lawyer and many times work closely with the lawyer in preparing the case against the defendant.
Many defendants seek to settle the civil cases and pay the plaintiff victim instead of going to court. The victim, with the help of the lawyer, decides whether or not to accept a settlement offer.
Criminal rules often seem to favour the rights of the accused. To the crime victim, civil courts may seem more balanced. Civil courts do not focus on the constitutional rights of the defendant. The rules of evidence are more balanced. In a civil trial, unlike a criminal trial, the defendant has no legal right to remain silent.
The burden of proof in the civil arena is very different from that of a criminal trial. The plaintiff crime victim is only required to prove liability on the balance of probabilities. It is much easier for the plaintiff crime victim to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the commission of a tort rather than proving criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Successful civil actions can result in full monetary reimbursement. Often, the amount collected is more than the victim’s actual damages due to aggravated and punitive awards. The achievement of monetary reimbursement, particularly if the defendant pays out-of-pocket, is sometimes vindication for the plaintiff crime victim.

What are some challenges to civil recovery?
Crime victims may have problems with collectability. Some defendants are `judgment proof’ – broke and with no prospects of coming into money from careers or inheritances. An experienced civil litigation lawyer can assess your case for you and determine whether pursuing the matter is practical.


This article was prepared by the law firm of John M Cameron, barrister and solicitor. This article is for general informational purposes only, and is not intended to act as legal advice. If you have any questions about this article or ICBC claims in general, please contact us.