The traditional legal remedies available to domestic violence victims- primarily through criminal, family, and protective order law- do not adequately cover their substantial current and future economic harm, including:
- loss of insurance
- medical bills
- loss of employment
- destruction of property
- relocation expenses
For example, the criminal system may be able to address the dangerousness of the abuser by putting him in jail, but it will likely cost him his job- which means he can’t pay the victim’s medical, housing and other critical expenses when they’re needed.
During divorce proceedings, family laws in many states do not adequately address the losses of victims of violence, including damage to marital property, bad debt or credit, and other financial damages.
Protective orders in most states only offer short-term solutions to economic security issues and the victim is expected to request contempt hearings and other penalties if the abuser does not comply with the economic relief he was court-ordered to provide. But most domestic violence victims, after obtaining a protective order, want to get away from the abuser and not engage him in further disputes.
In recent years there’s been a movement to use the tort system to compensate domestic violence victims for their actual economic losses and adequately address their needs. Public policy revisions now enable spouses or ex-spouses to sue each other for torts committed during the marriage- a measure that was impossible under traditional laws of interspousal immunity. Intimate partners who are not married also now have the right to sue one another.
Although the focus of torts is often on negligence, domestic violence would necessarily focus on intentional acts and the harm they created, including:
- intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress
- false imprisonment
- wrongful death
- intentional interference with custody or visitation
- parental kidnapping
- defamation, libel, and slander
- tortuous infliction of a sexually transmitted disease
- marital rape
- sexual assault
- invasion of privacy
- fraudulent transfer or concealment securities fraud
- destruction of property
JWI gratefully attributes the above list taken in part from Barbara J. Hart, Esq., and Erika Sussman, Esq.’s article Civil Tort Suits and Economic Justice for Battered Women (2004).
If you are a victim of domestic violence and you are considering a tort suit against your abuser, you should contact an attorney with tort and domestic violence expertise to discuss your options.
Learn more about domestic violence and tort law in these articles:Toward a Feminist Revision of Torts
Civil Torts Suits and Ecomonic Justice for Women
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