If you're the victim of a crime, the law lets you sue the perpetrator for any injuries or losses you sustain. Unfortunately, some criminals are judgment-proof, meaning they don't have any income or assets that can be used to pay a court award. Although this may be the case in your situation, you may still be able to collect some compensation for your injuries by applying for assistance through a state crime victims' fund. Here's more information about this option.
What is a Crime Victims' Fund?
A crime victims' fund is money that's been set aside to compensate people who were victims of assault, battery, theft, and other types of crimes. In addition to paying certain expenses such as funeral costs, the program may also provide other types of assistance such as emergency shelter, counseling, and transportation. The funding for these programs comes from a variety of sources including fines, forfeited appearance bonds, forfeited profits from criminal activity, and donations.
Who is Eligible for Compensation?
Eligibility for compensation through this program varies from state to state. In general, any person who is the victim of the crime or the surviving family member of someone who was killed as the result of a criminal act can apply for benefits. States also typically require that either the affected person be a resident of the state or the crime took place in the area, and the person must be an innocent victim. This means they can't have participated in the crime or been involved in any events leading up to the act.
The state may also limit compensation to victims of certain crimes. For example, the victims' compensation fund in Virginia covers a wide variety of crimes including assault, child abuse, rape, and robbery. However, the fund in New York only covers stalking crimes, unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, terrorist acts, and frivolous lawsuits.
What Types of Compensation are Available?
The types of compensation available also differ between states. In general, though, the fund will pay for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost earnings or support
- Burial expenses
- Counseling or other mental health services
- Attorney's fees
- Crime scene cleanup
The total amount of compensation available to victims may be limited. For instance, in Michigan, families can only get up to $25,000 in assistance.
How to Apply for Assistance
Almost all states allow victims to apply for assistance online at the designated victims' crime fund website. However, you can usually also apply in person at the appropriate state agency, which is typically the Department of Health and Human Services or similar entity. The crime must have been reported to the police, and you are required to cooperate with the law enforcement agency to qualify for benefits.
Whether or not you will file a personal injury lawsuit against the criminal that caused your injuries, it's a good idea to apply for compensation from your state crime victims' fund as soon as possible, because there is often a time limit involved (e.g., you must file within 3 years of the crime). Be aware, though, that if you do sue the perpetrator, the award you're granted may be reduced by any amount you receive from the fund.
For more information about crime victims' funds or assistance with suing a perpetrator for damages, contact a legal office like Walsh Fewkes Sterba.