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. 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 does not get paid unless you win in court, and then s/he takes a 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 Tennessee, you may file in the court of General Sessions on your own for anything that is $25,000 or less (although that limit doesn’t apply for a case in which you are suing to recover personal property - in other words, the property can be worth more than $25,000).1 If you want to sue for more, you may need the help of a lawyer. You may talk to the clerk of court in your county for help in filing a lawsuit in small claims court. You can get more information by reading Guidelines and Helpful Information for People with a Case In General Sessions Court on the Tennessee State Courts website (although it was last updated in 2013). You can also see Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s Representing Yourself in General Sessions Court (under the Consumer Information section).
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 TN ST § 16-15-501(d)(1)