Domestic Assault Attorneys
Can I sue my spouse/companion for abuse? How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
Domestic violence in Maine can result in injury or death. According to the Bangor Daily News, out of twenty homicides in 2017: “nine homicides — including the year’s only multiple homicide — were related to domestic violence. Two of the victims were children, one 7 weeks old, killed in Madison, and the other 4 years old, who died in Bucksport. Both were classified as domestic violence homicides.”
The number of victims of domestic violence who do not report the abuse is unknown, but some national estimates State that only 34% of those injured by their intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.
Domestic violence is a crime, punished by sending the criminal to jail, or imposing other criminal sanctions. But an injured Mainer doesn’t have to limit responsibility to pressing criminal charges. If you are assaulted or abused by someone in your home, and it causes you physical or significant mental injury, you can recover the cost of your medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering in the same way that you could recover for injuries from a car crash caused by a negligent driver.
What is Criminal Domestic Violence in Maine, and how is it related to money damages for injury?
Under Maine law (17 M.R.S.A. §207-A. Domestic violence assault) a person is guilty of domestic violence assault if the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person and the victim is a family or household member, or knowingly places another person (who is a family or household member) in fear of imminent bodily injury.
However, criminal proceedings do nothing to fully compensate the person who has been affected by the offender’s violence. In fact, the offender may be given counseling and rehabilitation assistance, while a person with a fracture from the assault or posttraumatic stress disorder from persistent and severe threats of violence is left to their own devices.
A Maine Protection from Abuse (called a “PFA”) is designed to keep the abuser away from the victim so that there are no further assaults. However, only the civil courts in Maine provide a full remedy: money to make up for what has been taken (the ability to work, money for medical bills and relocation to a safe space) and money to make up for what can’t be fixed: permanent physical injury and pain and suffering.
The only way to change things around from being a victim of domestic violence, to being a strong survivor of domestic violence is to confront the fact that you have been injured through no fault of your own and that you are deserving of full compensation for any and all injuries.
Many who are injured by a household member are not aware that Maine law allows them to bring their abuser to court in a civil lawsuit (personal injury lawsuit) on behalf of themselves. Victims do not need to rely on the district attorney or government-funded advocates to be their voice. A victim’s power under the law is not limited to simply being allowed to read a statement at sentencing. On the contrary, the Maine personal injury law gives a victim the power to bring a complaint against an assailant and to demand that he be held accountable for repairing the damage his actions have caused.
“Assault” in a personal injury case, simply means placing someone in reasonable fear that a harmful physical act is about to take place. In personal injury law, “battery” is used to describe the type of harmful or offensive physical contact similar to that described in the criminal definition of assault. Battery does not include only physical abuse such as hitting, punching, or kicking, but also includes incidents of sexual assault, even when if the sexual assault is between spouses or previous intimate partners. See generally Downer v. Veilleux, 322 A.2d 82 (Me. 1974) (defining “battery” as the intentional unlawful touching of another).
Before 1993, it was questionable whether a wife could sue her husband or former husband for actions that occurred between the two while the couple was married. Early judicial decisions relying on historical British common law had previously held that spousal immunity applied to prevent a wife from suing her husband for damages. See, e.g., Abbott v. Abbott, 67 Me. 304, 306 (1877) (explaining that “it is better to draw the curtain, shut out public gaze, and leave the parties to forgive and forget”). The rationale behind this primitive rule was that the court should not be involved in regulating the relationships between spouses. In the cause of Henriksen v. Cameron, 622 A.2d 1135 (Me. 1993), however, the Maine Supreme Court declared once and for all that interspousal immunity does not apply to prevent a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on a former husband’s tortious conduct toward his then-wife. At issue in that case were the former wife’s claims – which were ultimately accepted by the jury – that the former husband had called her a “lying whoring bitch,” had shattered doors and torn down walls in the couple’s home, had drunkenly swayed over the woman and threatened to “get” her while she was lying in bed, and had pulled the phone out of the wall to prevent her from calling for help during arguments and confrontations between the couple. The court noted that almost all of this conduct had occurred while the defendant was intoxicated.
The Henriksen case established another important precedent for victims of domestic or interspousal violence. In that case, the Maine Supreme Court held that, although claims for physical injuries caused by assault and battery must be brought within two years, evidence of prior abuse may be admissible in order to establish the abuser’s motive, intent, or pattern of behavior. Id. at 1143. In addition, the Court held that, although the statute of limitations for a claim of intentional assault and battery is two years, the claim for infliction of emotional distress, whether negligent or intentional, is six years. Id.
Just as a person injured by a negligent driver in a car crash has the right to money damages for all injuries, so too does the person injured by a violent household or family member. The rule is the same for both types of cases: To win in a civil lawsuit based on a personal injury claim, the person making the claim only needs to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant is at fault for causing the harms described by the victim. This is been the case in the State of Maine for decades and is part of Maine’s case law. One example is described in the case of Horner v. Flynn, 344 A.2d 194 (Me. 1975).
Money cannot erase the traumatic memories of abuse at the hands of a trusted partner; nor can it restore a ruined life to its earlier state. It can, however, compensate for medical expenses, counseling, and lost wages that would not have been incurred but for the abuse. It can also help a victim to move forward in ways that may not have been otherwise possible. It might permit a victim who once felt subordinate to an abuser to seek further education and a better life. It can pay for a home security system that will allow a former victim to sleep soundly at night knowing that she and her children will be safe.
At Briggs and Wholey we have experience representing victims of domestic violence in personal injury cases. If you think that you have suffered personal injury due to physical or severe emotional harm caused by a household family member, we would be happy to discuss your potential claim and provide legal representation while you engage in the process of healing from domestic trauma.