Suing an Abuser for Money
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. Each state has its own laws on these subjects, but, for the most part, they are very similar when it comes to injuries from abuse. To do this, you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. Some lawyers will take a case like this for a “contingent fee,” which means the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless you win in court, and then s/he takes some percentage, 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 Delaware, small claims court is called Justice of the Peace Court. You may file in Justice of the Peace Court on your own for anything that is $25,000 or less.1 If you want to sue for more, it may be more complicated so you may need the help of a lawyer.
Delaware law specifically allows you to sue someone who shares or threatens to share intimate images of you if you can prove:
- you suffered harm due to this person’s intentional disclosure or threatened disclosure of a private intimate image; and
- the person knew the following facts or acted with “reckless disregard” to these facts, which means that the person didn’t care about the consequences of his/her actions:
- you did not agree to the image being shared;
- the intimate image was private; and
- you are identifiable in the image.2
Note: Even if you allowed the intimate photo or video to be taken or if you voluntarily shared the image in the past, this doesn’t take away your right to sue if the image is shared without your consent.3
The amount of money for which you can sue is as follows:
- the greater of either of the following:
- damages that were directly caused by the defendant’s disclosure or threatened disclosure, including damages for emotional distress;
- “statutory damages” of up to $10,000 against each defendant for all disclosures and threatened disclosures of which you knew or reasonably should have known when filing the case or which became known while the court case was ongoing;
- an amount equal to any profit made by the defendant from disclosure of the intimate image;
- punitive damages; and
- your attorney’s fees and costs.4
You can also get what is called “injunctive relief,” which can order the defendant to do or not do something.5 So, for example, you can ask for an injunction that stops the defendant from posting further images or requires the defendant to take other action, such as removing the images from certain websites.
The timeframe in which you have to file your case based on the disclosure of intimate images, known as the “statute of limitations,” is within four years from the date that you discovered the disclosure of the images or within four years from the date that the threat of disclosure was made. The only exception is that if you were a minor when this happened, the four years starts from the day you turn 18.6
In addition, Delaware law allows you to sue for the return of property, known as “replevin.” For more information on the types of court cases you can file, go to the Delaware Courts website. You may talk to the clerk of court for help in filing a lawsuit in Justice of the Peace Court.
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 10 Del. C. § 9301(1)
2 10 Del. C. § 7803(b)
3 10 Del. C. § 7803(c)
4 10 Del. C. § 7806(a)(b)(1)
5 10 Del. C. § 7806(b)(2)
6 10 Del. C. § 7807