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. In addition, New York law specifically allows a person to sue someone who shares or publishes intimate images of him/her for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees. The law also allows a judge to issue an injunction to stop the behavior.1
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 “contingency fee” (also known as a “contingent fee”), which means the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless you win in court, and then s/he takes some percentage of your winnings, usually a third, of whatever damages the judge orders. However, sometimes the judge will order the defendant to pay for your attorney’s fees.
In 2019, New York extended the amount of time (statute of limitations) that you have to sue someone who sexually abused you as a child. If you are the victim of childhood sexual abuse after the law is passed, you may have until you turn 55 years old to file a lawsuit.2 However, if you were sexually abused as a child before the law went into effect, and the time to file a lawsuit already expired (the statute of limitations had already run), this new law still allows you to file a lawsuit but the timeframe to file the lawsuit is not your 55th birthday. Instead, you have a one-year window to file your lawsuit.3 You can read these laws on our Selected New York Statutes page and please talk to a lawyer who can advise you based on your specific situation.
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 New York State, you may file in small claims court for any amount up to $5,000 or for up to $10,000 if you are filing in New York City.4 You may talk to the clerk of court in your county for help in filing a lawsuit in small claims court. There are small claims courts located in every county in New York as well as all five boroughs of New York City. To read more about small claims court in New York please read A Guide to Small Claims Court by the state of New York.
If you want to file for more than the small claims court amount, you will likely need the help of a lawyer. To find a lawyer who can take your case for a contingent fee, you can contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association, which offers lawyer referrals to crime victims seeking to sue offenders.
1 NY CIV RTS § 52-B(2)
2 NY CPLR § 208(b)
3 NY CPLR § 214-g
4 NY UN DIST CT § 1801; NY CTY CIV CT § 1801