Suing an Abuser
You may have a right to seek justice from the abuser through the court system where you live. When people are injured by others, they are permitted to seek what the law refers to as “damages,” in the form of money, for such things as medical bills, lost wages or employment, physical and emotional pain and suffering, and, in some cases, to punish the abuser. In addition, California law specifically allows a person to sue someone who is stalking him/her for general damages, specific damages and punitive damages. The law also allows a judge to issue an injunction to stop the behavior.1 You can read more about what you need to prove to sue someone civilly for stalking by reading the law on our Selected California Statutes page. Additionally, California law allows a victim of nonconsensual image sharing (“revenge porn”) to sue the abuser in civil court for damages and allows a judge to issue an injunction to stop the sharing of your images.2
In general, to sue someone in court, you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. Some lawyers will take a case like this for a “contingent fee.” That means the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless you win in court, and then s/he takes some percent, usually a third, of whatever damages the judge orders. Sometimes the judge will order the defendant to pay for your attorney’s fees.
If your damages are below a certain amount, you may be able to file on your own in small claims court. Small claims court is a less formal type of court, and many people are able to go to small claims court without the help of an attorney.
In California, in general, a person can sue in small claims court for $10,000 or less although there are some exceptions, listed on the California Courts website here. If you want to sue for more, you will have to file in regular district court and may need the help of a lawyer. You may talk to the clerk of court for help in filing a lawsuit in small claims court.
The California Courts Self-Help Center website can provide additional information on small claims court in California.
If you need help in finding a lawyer who can take your case for a contingent fee, contact:
National Crime Victim Bar Association
2000 M Street NW, Suite 480
Washington, D.C. 20036
Lawyer Referral Line: 800-FYI-CALL
Offers information and lawyer referrals to crime victims seeking to sue offenders.
1 Cal Civ. Code § 1708.7
2 Cal Civ. Code § 1708.85