Can I Sue My Attacker If They’re In Prison?

Imagine this situation: You were attacked on the street, but you defend yourself to the best of your ability. You manage to subdue your assailant. You flag down a witness to call the police. When they arrive, they arrest the perpetrator and send him off to jail — but they also notice that your arm is broken in two places. An ambulance arrives. You get patched up. Weeks go by before the bills finally come in the mail. You can’t possibly pay! What’s your next move?

First, when a person injures you either voluntarily or through negligence, we call that niche of law “personal injury.” In these situations, you have the right to collect “damages” by filing a lawsuit. Personal injury lawyers even work via contingency, which means you don’t pay a dime until they win your case. Sounds good? Of course it does!

But what if the person you’re trying to sue has already been arrested and is in prison?

That’s where things get slightly more complicated. You have two basic options, neither of which will likely sound wonderful. First, you can ask your lawyer if restitution is possible. Restitution is a form of repayment when victims of a crime suffer financial loss and is actually mandatory for many federal crimes. 

Because you were assaulted and suffered an expensive injury, you are almost certainly entitled to restitution. The problem, though, is that most people who commit crimes like these are already living in poverty and won’t be able to pay you back. This is especially true when the criminal is serving time in prison.

A lawyer for jgcg said, “We provide criminal defense services. Sometimes clients are slammed with restitution. Guilty or not, most of them are unable to pay these additional costs — especially after they retain legal aid. Restitution is an impractical option for victims of violent crime, but sometimes it’s the only option.”

Whether or not you receive restitution, you can still sue in civil court for additional costs you incur. Of course, the problems with this option are the same as with restitution: if the criminal cannot pay, you won’t receive a dime. 

If the perpetrator still has assets tied up through marriage, you might be able to sue successfully. You should keep in mind, though, that recouping damages might pass along the financial difficulties you suffered to the family of the defendant. Legally, you have that option. Morally, it’s up to you. 

There’s another side to this story, though. If you’re an inmate with a legal reason to sue someone who is outside of jail, you still have that right! This is especially true if the person works at the jail housing you, or the institution is guilty of cruel or unusual punishment. These lawsuits are more common than you might think, but it shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Over 2.3 million people are sitting in jail in the United States.

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