The Deputy Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, Jeffrey Dion, is sitting at a table at the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) conference in Las Vegas. He’s there to connect with lawyers and promote the organization as a resource for victims of crime who want more than a guilty verdict from the people who have caused them serious injury.
In an exclusive interview with LawyersandSettlements, Dion points out the Connie Francis story as an important example of what civil litigation can do for victims of crime.
“One of the first really big cases where victims sued perpetrators was the Connie Francis case,” Dion explains.“She went to perform at a music festival on Long Island and she was raped in her room at a Howard Johnson’s hotel. She sued Howard Johnson’s for negligent security and won.”
Francis received $1.5 million in compensation in the late 1970s.
“These kinds of suits create economic incentives for crime prevention,” says Dion. “Now when you check into a hotel and you get a room key that looks like a credit card instead of your house keys that is because of a civil lawsuit. It is cheaper for hotels to install an electronic lock system than face the liability exposure of judgments or settlements because you gave out a big fat metal key with the room number stamped on it and the keys were getting into the wrong hands.”
Who can sue?
The door to civil litigation against perpetrators of crime is open to everyone who has been the victim of crime. The National Center for Victims of Crime deals with everything from domestic violence cases to victims of security fraud to victims of serious assault and murder, and more.
“There are so many benefits that the civil justice system offers,” says Dion. “It offers them indemnification, it offers them the chance to have their day in court, it offers them accountability where the people who are responsible whether through negligence or intentionally are held directly accountable for the harm that was suffered.”
However, many people simply aren’t aware that they can pursue a perpetrator for compensation through litigation.
“Every victim has a tort claim,” says Dion. “The question is do they have a claim against someone worth recovering against, and do they come to us before the statute of limitations (usually two years) expires.
“The most frustrating experience I have is when someone phones me up and they have a good claim and someone they could recover against and their statute of limitations is up,” says Dion. “They then say nobody told me about this.”
How can I find a lawyer?
Some people think they can’t afford to hire a lawyer to help them fight a civil action like this.
However, as Dion explains, there is a way and the National Center for Victims of Crime is there to help.
“Most of these cases, when there are likely to be large amounts of compensation available to recover, are done on a contingency basis,” says Dion. “In other words, lawyers take the case based on the belief that they will win and then are paid out of the money recovered from the perpetrator.
“If you have a case where the compensation is maybe worth $10,000, a good lawyer will tell you a civil suit doesn’t make sense. It is essentially priced out of the market. However, you can make a claim for victim compensation or restitution at the end of the criminal trial,” he adds.
The National Center for Victims of Crime has a list of 350 lawyers who are familiar with these kinds of civil cases on behalf of victims of crime. There are also resources available to help victims of crime navigate through the process.
Connie Francis demanded justice - and made a lasting difference too.