The Joy of Suing: When a Criminal Does You Harm

Most lawsuits are not intended to punish people. Most legal actions are over negligence or breach of contract – a driver who swerved over a centre line or an employer who failed to pay a decent severance.


But sometimes it is only fair and right that a lawsuit also seek to punish someone who has caused harm. Given the “@metoo” movement these days, we all know the impact of sexually abusive employers, for example. Or we have heard of accidents caused by a drunk driver.


Of course, the police are often called in such cases. But the criminal process can be slow and unsatisfactory for many.

The advantages of suing together with (or instead of) calling the police are many:


  • You do not have to wait until the criminal charges are dealt with; you can sue immediately.
  • The defendant cannot refuse to testify; he or she must answer questions under oath (at something called an examination for discovery and again at trial). That is, you can get answers to the questions you have and you can get them sooner than later.
  • The test for liability is far lighter than the criminal test of beyond a reasonable doubt; instead, the court asks “Did the defendant likely do it? 
  • One can inflict real (financial) pain on the defendant; too often a criminal conviction is followed by a slap on the wrist. In one recent case in which our office was involved, three years of sexual abuse of a minor saw a four month sentence; suing the perpetrator exacted a lot more justice.
It may be a stretch to talk about the joy of suing in such cases. But a lawsuit often has delivered a good deal more satisfaction than a criminal charge.