Colorado law allows victims of crimes to recover financial compensation for their losses in several ways.
Victims of a crime (or their family members, in some cases) can:
- file a civil lawsuit (such as a personal injury case) against the wrongdoer;
- request compensation from the Colorado Crime Victim Services Funds or Victim Compensation Offices; or
- apply for restitution from the Colorado criminal court.
Does a Civil Lawsuit Require a Criminal Conviction?
No. A criminal conviction is not required to file a civil lawsuit against a perpetrator of a crime. In fact, a person may even be found not guilty in the criminal court, and could still be sued successfully in civil court.
Crime victims file certain types of civil lawsuits more often, including:
- Assault and battery lawsuits;
- Nursing home abuse lawsuits;
- Domestic violence lawsuits;
- Sexual assault and abuse lawsuits; and
- Stalking lawsuits.
Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about how to file a lawsuit as a crime victim and the injuries you may have suffered:
- 1. What is the difference between a civil and criminal trial in Colorado?
- 2. What is the difference between civil damages and restitution?
- 3. What types of crime can a victim sue for?
- 4. Can family members sometimes sue as the result of a crime?
- 5. What if the defendant does not pay the judgment?
1. What is the difference between a civil and criminal trial in Colorado?
A criminal trial is designed:
- to determine whether the accused is guilty of the crime charged; and, if the accused is found guilty,
- to impose an appropriate criminal penalty.
The State of Colorado prosecutes the accused. The victim is not actually a party to the lawsuit, but his or her testimony will likely be a part of the criminal trial.
A civil trial is a:
- legal action
- that exists to make the victim (or victim’s family)
- as whole as possible.
In a civil lawsuit, a person can be compensated financially through compensatory damages1, such as:
2. What is the difference between civil damages and restitution?
Both civil damages and restitution are:
- financial awards
- designed to compensate the victim financially
- for harm caused by the defendant.
However, important differences exist in how the two are obtained by the injured party.
2.1 What is restitution in a Colorado criminal case?
In a Colorado criminal case, the victim is able to submit bills to the prosecution that show his or her damages.
The prosecutor presents the damage amount to the court during the sentencing portion of the criminal case, but the judge ultimately decides whether restitution is warranted and in what amount.3
Restitution is designed to help make victims whole and “to take the profit out of crime.”4 There is no cost to seek restitution in a criminal case.
2.2 How do I obtain civil damages through a civil lawsuit?
In a civil lawsuit, the victim is required to:
- file a civil lawsuit;
- prove liability on the part of the defendant;
- prove his or her damages; and
- successfully collect on any judgment.
This can take longer than obtaining money through restitution in a criminal case. However, restitution requires either:
- a criminal conviction; or
- a guilty plea.
If the defendant is found not guilty or the charges are dismissed, restitution is unavailable. If this is the case, a civil lawsuit is the appropriate course of action.
2.3 Why can I file a civil lawsuit even if the defendant is found not guilty at trial?
A criminal trial and a civil trial have different standards of proof. A criminal trial requires the State of Colorado to prove the truth of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard.5
Civil cases require only a preponderance of the evidence standard, a much lower burden of proof than for a criminal trial.6 This means that even if a person may be found “not guilty” under the high criminal standard, they could still be “liable” in a civil case.
Example: O.J. Simpson was famously charged with murdering his wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was acquitted (found not guilty) at the criminal trial. However, the families of the victims brought a wrongful death suit against O.J. Simpson and were successful. The jury awarded the family $8 million in damages, and the judge later added another $25 million in punitive damages.
3. What types of crime can a victim sue for?
In reality, almost any type of crime could be the basis for a civil lawsuit so long as:
- the victim suffered some type of harm;
- the defendant caused the harm; and
- the defendant has assets to compensate the victim.
Common types of crimes a victim can sue for include but are not limited to:
- Assault with a deadly weapon;
- Child abuse or neglect;
- DUI that causes an injury;
- Vehicular manslaughter or homicide; and
- White-collar crimes.
Starting in 2022, child sex abuse victims can sue the institutions that concealed the abuse or took no measures to stop it. The damages cap is $1 million for private businesses and $387.000 for government entities.7 And there is longer a statute of limitations to sue for child sex abuse incidents.8
4. Can family members sometimes sue as the result of a crime?
Most of the time, only a victim him or herself can file a lawsuit for a crime.
However, certain types of damages or claims allow for a family member or representative to sue instead, including:
- negligent infliction of emotional distress;
- loss of consortium;
- wrongful death; and
- survival actions.
5. What if the defendant does not pay the judgment?
If the defendant refuses to pay the judgment the victim was awarded, there are methods to collect that can help.
These methods include, but are not limited to:
- garnishing the defendant’s income;
- placing a lien on the defendant’s bank accounts;
- placing a lien on the defendant’s personal property and putting it up for sale; or
- imposing by the court certain “sanctions” (for example, suspension of a professional license).
An experienced Colorado attorney can help ensure you are able to collect the award to which you are entitled.
Call us for help…
For questions about how to file a lawsuit as a crime victim in Colorado or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. (For cases in California, please see our article on lawsuits by victims of crime in California).
We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.
- 16 COPRAC 16:32 (Compensatory Damages).
- 17 COPRAC 5.13 (Payment of Medical Bills).
- 15 COPRAC 20.44 (Restitution) (“Colorado law requires a sentencing court to include consideration of restitution when imposing a sentence.”)
- People v. Milne, 690 P.2d 829, 836 (Colo.1984).
- 33-AUG COLAW 85 (Reasonable Doubt: An Overview and Examination of Jury Instructions in Colorado).
- City of Littleton v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 370 P.3d 157 (Sup. Ct. Colo. 2016). (Proof “by a preponderance of the evidence” demands only that the evidence must “preponderate over, or outweigh, evidence to the contrary.”)
- SB21-88 (2021).
- SB21-73 (2021).