Domestic Violence is a serious problem in Maryland.  According to a report by the Maryland State Police, in 2014, 27,242 Marylander’s (including family members) were victims of domestic violence-related crimes; of these, 19,535 were intimate partners: 69% were women 31% were men.[i]  Between 7/1/14 and 6/30/15, 25 women, 2 children, and 7 men in Maryland died as a result of domestic violence; 6 men committed suicide after actual or attempted murder, 1 man was killed by police, and 1 man was killed by his girlfriend in self-defense. [ii]  In FY 2014, 16,778 temporary protective orders and 8,128 final protective orders were issued in Circuit and District courts.  In the same time frame, 17,699 temporary peace orders and 6,797 final peace orders were granted.[iii]

A great many of these victims suffered serious injuries requiring medical treatment resulting in monetary damages, physical pain and suffering, and mental anguish.  In Maryland, 32% of women sought help at hospital emergency rooms, inpatient units or ambulatory care for injures specifically resulting from the abuse.[iv]  All of these victims have a wealth of resources available to them to find support, counseling, shelters, protective orders, custody and divorce proceedings, and filing criminal actions against their abusers.  This article is going to discuss the victims’ options in suing their abusers for damages in a civil lawsuit.

Maryland law allows the victim of abuse to sue for damages caused by their abusers in both District and Circuit Court, depending on the monetary damages being claimed by the victim.  Under civil law, the victim of domestic violence can sue for any number of causes of action against their abuser.  While many people know that Assault is a criminal charge in Maryland, assault can also be brought as a civil action under tort law.  The tort of assault is committed when:  1. Someone threatens another person; 2. Putting the person in fear of being physically hurt.[v]  A battery is: 1. The intentional, harmful or offensive contact; 2. Of another person.[vi]  The offensive touching does not have to be direct.[vii]

Has the abuser intentionally, recklessly, or negligently caused the intimate partner or the parties’ children to suffer from emotional distress?  Then he or she can be sued for the tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.  The elements for intentional infliction of emotional distress are: 1. Conduct must be intentional or reckless; 2. Conduct must be extreme and outrageous; 3. There must be a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress. 4. Emotional distress must be severe.[viii]  To be successful in a suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the emotional stress must “completely violate human dignity.” [ix]

There are a number of different torts available to the victims and their families including wrongful death claims, false imprisonment, conversion (taking of someone’s property), transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, and the list goes on to cover situations where you lost a job because of your abusers behavior, and suits to get your property returned to you.  An experienced Maryland attorney can assist you in determining what causes of action you may have and what damages you can claim against your abuser.

Understanding the types of damages is another area where an experienced Maryland attorney can assist you in recovering all of the potential damages from your abuser for their negligent or intentional acts against you and your family.  Compensatory Damages are damages which compensate or pay back the victim for any actual losses they suffered due to the acts of the abuser.  This would include medical bills, lost wages, loss of income, the value of destroyed property, and other various types of actual damage.  In many instances a battered spouse or intimate partner can recover punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.  General guidelines relating to recovery of punitive damages are:

  1. Punitive damages are not recoverable in actions for breach of contract.
  2. Such damages are recoverable in tort actions if malice is shown. The type or degree of malice required depends upon the nature of the tort.
  3. Actual or express malice requires an intentional or willful act (or omission). Malice “has been characterized as the performance of an act without legal justification or excuse, but with an evil or rancorous motive influenced by hate, the purpose being to deliberately and willfully injure the plaintiff.”  [x]
  4. Punitive damages are not permitted for wrongful death. [xi]
  5. However, a wrongful death claim may allow damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education. [xii]

The nature and severity of the damages to the victim of domestic violence carries a significant weight in how much a judge or jury may award to a victim if the tort is proven in court.  The standard of proof for a civil case is much lower than in a criminal action.  For criminal cases the State must show that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, for a civil case, the Plaintiff must show that it is more likely than not that the Defendant did the alleged acts.  I generally explain this as the Plaintiff must prove their case to 51% to reach the threshold.  This is not to say that a judge or jury will not require more, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Suing an abuser for damages in civil court is really just the first step in the process of recovering damages for the injuries and distress inflicted upon you.  Once a judgment is ordered by the Court, the victim must still collect those monies from the Defendant.  Having a judgment for damages is great, however, it is just a piece of paper.  If the abuser/Defendant does not have the money to pay or refuses to pay the Plaintiff, then the Plaintiff has a few legal avenues to pursue to compel the Defendant to make good on the judgment.  But this process can be long, frustrating, and expensive.  It is important to consult with an experienced Maryland attorney to make sure you use every tool at your disposal.

If you are a victim of Domestic Violence or your know someone who is a victim of Domestic Violence there is help out there!  Maryland has a number of resources available to victims.  A great place to start is the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, http://mnadv.org.  As always, please contact my office if you have any questions about your legal options.

 

 

 

[i] Maryland State Police. 2014. “Crime in Maryland: 2014 Uniform Crime Report (UCR).”

[ii] Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. 2016.

[iii] Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts Data. 2014.

[iv] Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. 2016.

[v] Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 21 (1965).

[vi] Id.at §§ 13, 18.

[vii] See Saba v. Darling, 575 A.2d 1240, 1242 (Md. 1990).

[viii] See Harris v. Jones, 380 A.2d 611, 614 (Md. 1977).

 

[ix] Hamilton v. Ford Motor Co., 502 A.2d 1057, 1064 (Md. 1986).

[x] American Laundry Mach. Indus. v. Horan, 412 A.2d 407, 416 (Md. 1980).

[xi] Cohen v. Rubin, 460 A.2d 1046, 101-02 (Md. 1983).

[xii] MD Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-904(d); (link is external);  Barrett v. Charlson, 305 A.2d 166 (1973).

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