Most victims of stalking know that injunctions and criminal charges are typically the first action taken in a stalking case. But there is another avenue for bringing stalkers to justice and helping victims move on with their lives: Civil litigation.
Through a civil lawsuit, stalkers and third parties who contributed to/ allowed the crime to occur can be held accountable and victims are financially compensated for any physical pain and suffering, emotional and mental damages, lost wages, medical/ counseling expenses, loss of consortium and more. If the stalking resulted in homicide, one may have grounds to pursue a wrongful death claim.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our dedicated Fort Lauderdale stalking injury attorneys are committed to helping stalking victims and their families obtain justice. In addition to action against the accused stalker, civil judgments against negligent third parties convince those individuals and entities to avoid the kind of negligence that caused them to be sued in the first place.What is Stalking?
As outlined by the National Center for Victims of Crime, stalking is a pattern of behavior that makes the victim feel nervous, afraid, harassed or in danger. Someone who repeatedly contacts you, follows you, sends you things, talks to you when you don’t want them to or threatens you could be considered a stalker. Other potential stalking behaviors include:
- Knowing your schedule;
- Texting or calling you repeatedly, after you have told them to stop;
- Showing up “randomly” at places where you are;
- Contacting you or posting about you on social media sites;
- Sending unwanted gifts;
- Damaging your property;
- Threatening to hurt you.
Florida’s stalking law, F.S. 784.048, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor (punishable by a maximum of one year in jail) to willfully, maliciously and repeatedly harass, follow or cyberstalk someone else. Penalties increase when the perpetrator makes a credible threat against the victim, does so while there is a court-ordered injunction to stay away, has prior offenses or is stalking a child under 16.
Approximately 8 percent of women and 2 percent of men are stalked at some point in their lives, though only about 13 percent of cases reported to police are prosecuted, and of those, only about 53 – 60 percent of defendant are convicted.
Although civil lawsuits are an important option for victims of crime regardless of the criminal case outcome, they are particularly important for stalking victims because the criminal justice system has a poor track record in successfully resolving stalking cases.Civil Lawsuits an Alternative Path to Justice
Although there is no specific statute in Florida that allows victims of stalking the right to sue their stalker, there are other causes of action that are applicable to a stalking case.
Some examples of causes of action in a civil stalking case include:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs in these cases need to show the defendant stalker acted intentionally or recklessly and does not need to show the defendant intended to cause emotional distress. Plaintiffs must also prove defendant’s conduct “outrageous” and beyond the bounds of personal decency, not merely careless or use of bad manners. It also must be established the emotional distress was severe, though it’s not necessary that plaintiff prove that physical harm or the need for medical treatment arose from the distress.
- Invasion of privacy. This requires proof of at least one of the following: Intrusion, appropriation, public disclosure or false light. Plaintiff must also show these actions were not protected by the First Amendment.
- Sexual harassment. These are most often pursued in the context of employment-related sexual harassment, with plaintiff showing he/ she perceived the conduct severe and pervasive enough to alter the terms of employment and also that this perception is objectively reasonable.
- Trespass. One may be subject to liability to another for trespass if he intentionally enters land in possession of another causes another to do so and remains on the land without permission. For stalking victims, trespass tort claims can be a good cause of action if a stalker has broken into their homes or intruded on their property. Cyberstalkers who invite third parties to trespass on the property of a victim can be held liable under this tort.
- Assault. One may be liable for assault if he or she acts intending to cause harmful or offensive contact or to cause apprehension of such contact and the victim is thereby put in such imminent apprehension. For this claim, there needs to be more than words alone, unless together with other circumstances they place plaintiff in reasonable apprehension of imminent harm.
- Negligent security. Those who are harmed by stalkers may claim the security at places where they were hurt (i.e., apartment or condo building, retail stores, nightclubs, hotels, etc.) was not sufficient to protect them. The one difficulty in these cases is the foreseeability of a stalking attack. If a stalking victim gives notification of the stalking to a landlord or other building owner, that could provide a basis to assert foreseeability.
If you have been a victim of stalking in Fort Lauderdale and want to explore the possibility of pursuing a civil lawsuit, we can help.
Contact The Ansara Law Firm for more information about pursuing a civil claim for damages after stalking, sexual assault, abuse or molestation. Call us at (954) 761-3641 for a free case review.