An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. are victimized by crime annually, and the consequences of that crime often extend far beyond the individual act. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates victims – and those who survive them – are left with substantial costs for medical treatment, rehabilitation, counseling, lost wages and property damage.
Every year, those costs stack up to $450 billion.
But the criminal justice system is not designed to compensate victims of crime for their losses. True, some cases do result in orders of restitution. But the victim has little control over the proceedings, and the goal of the criminal justice system is punishment of the offender, not restoration of the victim.
This is why many victims of violent crime (and/or their surviving loved ones) may seek justice through the civil court system. In this forum, victims have a greater amount of control. They can seek financial compensation. They can hold offenders directly accountable. They can also pursue action against other third-party responsible parties, such as businesses, apartment complexes and shopping centers that failed to have adequate security. They may also pursue a civil lawsuit even if the criminal action sputters out and fails to result in a conviction.
In the recent case of State ex rel. Beisly v. Hon. Perigo, the mother of a murder victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit against decedent’s husband. Four years after the death, husband was arrested for allegedly arranging to have his wife murdered by a 25-year-old hired farmhand. Decedent was reportedly threatening divorce, and some have stated husband did not want her to obtain a significant share of the couple’s farm, to which she would have been entitled.
Interestingly, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the wrongful death claim was not barred under the statute of limitations. Even though state law clearly says civil lawsuits for wrongful death can’t be brought more than three years after the death occurred (same as South Carolina), justices ruled that to impose that limitation would be contrary to common law precedent, given that the husband allegedly engaged in fraudulent concealment to keep his actions hidden from law enforcement.
According to court records, decedent was found dead inside her home from multiple gunshot wounds to her head and chest. At the time, her death was ruled a homicide, and it remained unsolved for almost four years. Then, the state charged her estranged husband and his hired farmhand with murder.
Soon thereafter, victim’s mother filed this wrongful death lawsuit against husband. He moved to have the case dismissed for failure to meet the statutory deadline. Plaintiff asserted defendant fraudulently concealed his actions by:
- Disguising the nature of death by staging it to look like a home invasion;
- Using a weapon that could not be traced;
- Lying to law enforcement;
- Denying involvement in decedent’s death.
She asserted defendant should be estopped from relying on the statute of limitations, given the fraudulent concealment.
The circuit court conceded that the statute of limitations accrues when decedent dies. However, the court reasoned the statute shouldn’t be construed so strictly as to avoid the purpose, and found that allowing a person to evade civil liability for wrongdoing for criminal actions fraudulently concealed simply on the basis of statute of limitations was “shocking to the conscience.”
An appeal was transferred to the state supreme court, which affirmed. Now, the civil case may proceed, even as the criminal case is also pending.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
State ex rel. Beisly v. Hon. Perigo, Aug. 18, 2015, Missouri Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
MythBusters: Hands-Free Cell Phones No Safer When Driving, Aug. 23, 2015, South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog