Can I Sue For A Hate Crime?

Oxford Languages defines the term “hate crime” as such: “A crime, typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.” Because hate crimes so often involve violence against one or more victims, that means the perpetrator has two types of liabilities: criminal and civil. Criminal liability means you might owe the jurisdiction where you were arrested money in the form of fine or restitution for the victim (plus get put in jail), and civil liability means you might be sued for any financial losses incurred by the victim because of your crime.

In most cases, victims will want to consult with a personal injury lawyer immediately after the crime takes place or as soon as they have recovered from their injuries. Needless to say, but a victim cannot recover damages without first consulting the police. In some cases, it might even be prudent to report the crime to the FBI!

Victims almost always have means to recover damages from the perpetrator because 47 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books to determine punishments for crimes that fit the category of “hate.” The federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 might also mean the perpetrator committed a federal crime.

Not sure if the criminal activity fits the definition of a hate crime? No problem. You can consult with a personal injury attorney to find out, or check UCLA Law Library’s section on hate crime statutes for a state-by-state list.

There are several types of “damages” or recompense for which a victim can sue. These include physical damages to the body, pain and suffering damages to the mind, lost wages both during and after recovery, reduced productivity damages, and punitive damages. Most of these categories are self-explanatory, but the last is based on a judge’s decision to punish the perpetrator for gross negligence — in this case through voluntary action, which is when punitive damages are most likely stacked with the rest.

Victims of a hate crime should document everything from the bills they pay and the hours they miss at work to the feelings they experience during recovery. Keeping a journal of the entire ordeal can help a personal injury attorney file a successful claim on a victim’s behalf.

What should you expect? What you shouldn’t expect is to move mountains. You are owed recompense for any losses sustained, but the vast majority of criminals who owe criminal or civil restitution pay it back slowly over a period of years — if at all. The criminal justice system has yet to find an efficient way to expedite or guarantee that restitution is paid, and you should be prepared to wait a while.

That said, you should still file a lawsuit. A crime without serious consequences is a crime that will happen again. Not only could a strong lawsuit help you but it could also help those who would have been future victims. We owe it to ourselves to hold those who would do us harm accountable for their actions!