In a civil lawsuit, the victim brings a case for money damages against the offender or a third party for causing physical or emotional injuries. Regardless of the outcome of any criminal prosecution, or even if there was no prosecution, crime victims can file civil lawsuits against offenders and other responsible parties. The person who starts the lawsuit is called the plaintiff, and the person or entity against whom the case is brought is called the defendant. Unlike a criminal case, in which the central question is whether the offender is guilty of the crime, in a civil lawsuit, the question is whether an offender or a third party is responsible for the injuries suffered.
In a civil suit, unlike a criminal prosecution, the plaintiff is responsible for the cost of litigation. Most attorneys handle victim cases on a contingency basis, which means that the attorney fee is deducted from the final award. This allows individuals to have access to the civil justice system without the need to finance the case themselves. If the case is not successful, the victim usually pays nothing. In a civil suit, the attorney directly represents the victim’s interests and the victim has greater control in case decision-making than in a criminal prosecution.