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Other Legal Needs

When it comes to certain crimes, victims may need specialized help to address their legal needs. This section includes information about specific crimes and topics, as well as resources and getting help.

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Torts and Civil Actions

Civil Lawsuit

Crime victim compensation and court ordered restitution may not cover all the losses experienced by a victim of crime. In addition to financial losses, a crime victim may want to pursue legal damages, such as payment for pain and suffering, from the defendant or other responsible individuals. To address losses not covered by compensation and restitution, a crime victim may want to file a private civil lawsuit.

This section contains information about civil lawsuits. To learn more about other types of cases that can be brought in different courts, click here.
In a civil lawsuit, the victim of the crime sues the perpetrator of the crime for money to cover losses experienced by the victim because of the crime or to compel the perpetrator to start or stop certain behavior. Both the victim and the perpetrator are part of the lawsuit.
In a criminal case, the government charges, prosecutes, and tries to convict (or get a guilty plea from) the perpetrator of the crime. The victim of the crime may be involved in the case as a witness for the prosecution, but they are not a required participant in the case.

Civil Lawsuits

A civil lawsuit is about a wrongful act, which may or may not be criminal, that injures or interferes with another person or their property.

Criminal Cases

A criminal case is about a wrongful act that federal, state, or tribal law says is a criminal offense.
A civil wrongful act is also known a “tort.”
A criminal offense is also known as a “crime.”
In a civil lawsuit, the victim brings a civil action (or “tort” action) against the defendant. The government is not involved. The victim, who files the action, is called the plaintiff. The perpetrator is called the defendant.
In a criminal case, the government charges and prosecutes the crime. The perpetrator of the crime is the defendant.
In a civil action, the judge or jury decides whether the defendant is “liable” (legally responsible) for injuries suffered by the plaintiff. A civil action does not determine whether the defendant is guilty of a crime.
In a criminal case, the judge or jury determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
If the defendant loses, the defendant must pay damages to the plaintiff.
If the defendant loses, they may be ordered by the court to serve time in prison, pay restitution to the victim, pay a fine to the government, or serve a prolonged probation.
Burden on the plaintiff - Clear and convincing evidence.
Burden of proof on the government – Beyond a reasonable doubt.

What is a tort?

To bring and win a civil action, a plaintiff must be able to claim and show that the defendant committed a wrongful act. In civil cases, a crime or other wrongful act is referred to as a tort. A tort can be intentional (for example, punching someone) or negligent (for example, running a red light and crashing into someone).

Examples of Tort


Intentionally putting another person in reasonable fear of immediate harm or offensive contact (for example, raising a fist to someone as if to punch them or pretending to grope them).


Intentionally causing harm to or offensively contacting another person without that person’s consent (for example, punching or groping someone).

Unlawful Imprisonment

Holding someone against their will for any period of time.


Knowingly entering another person’s property without their permission.


Acting in a careless manner, which results in someone else getting hurt or someone else’s property being damaged (for example, running a stop sign and causing an accident).

Wrongful Death

When a death is caused by someone’s wrongful act (for example, negligently running a stop sign and causing a fatal accident).

Intentional or Reckless Infliction of Emotional Distress

Intentionally or recklessly causing mental distress to someone else through extreme or outrageous conduct (for example, lying to someone and telling them that their spouse has been killed when they have not).

Who can file a civil action?

The Plaintiff in a civil lawsuit can be the victim themselves, the victim’s parent or guardian, the victim’s legal representative, or a survivor of the victim if the victim is deceased.

The purposes of a civil action are to permit a plaintiff to recover losses they have experienced as a result of a defendant’s wrongful act(s) or to compel the defendant to start or stop certain actions.
What this means is that when a plaintiff files a civil action against a defendant, the plaintiff’s claim must state:
That it is filed in the correct courthouse location
What tort(s) the defendant committed, and
What relief they are wanting to be granted by the court (Example: $5,000 for medical bills).
An attorney can help a plaintiff with their civil lawsuit.

How long does someone have to file a civil action?

Civil actions must always be filed within a certain period of time. The laws that say how long that period is are known as “statutes of limitations.” In Arizona, different torts have different statutes of limitations.
Generally, the statute of limitations for civil actions related to tort claims is 2 years. A.R.S. § 12-542

This means that for most civil actions, including actions arising from injuries to people or property, a lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the wrongful act.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as:

Sexual offense against a child
The action must be filed before the plaintiff turns 30 years old. A.R.S. §12-514. This includes an action against any person who is legally required to report sexual conduct or sexual contact against a minor but fails to do so. A.R.S. § 13-3620(A)

The action must be filed within 3 years. A.R.S. § 12-543

If the civil action arises from criminal conduct and the defendant is charged with a crime, the statute of limitations automatically extends for one additional year after the final disposition of the criminal case, regardless of whether the defendant is convicted. A.R.S. § 12-511(A)

State laws change regularly and speaking with an attorney may provide useful information about the statutes of limitations for certain civil actions.

What happens in a civil action?

Information about how to file a civil action, the forms that a plaintiff can use, and how the process works, is available here:

Do I need an attorney? How can I find an attorney to help in a civil action?

It is possible for a plaintiff to pursue a civil action on their own, without an attorney. This is commonly referred to as self-representation, or pro se representation. Information about how to file a civil action, the forms that a plaintiff can use, and how the process works, is available here.

However, the legal system is complicated, with many laws and rules that nonlawyers may not be aware of. This sometimes leads to difficulties for self-represented plaintiffs. It is important to know that hiring an attorney to help you navigate the system is not an all or nothing choice. A person can hire a lawyer to represent them, give them a short consultation, or to only help on specified parts of the lawsuit (this is called “limited scope representation”). In limited scope representation, an attorney may give  legal advice and assist with forms or evidence before filing.
For more information about different types of legal representation

To find legal help and information related to civil actions, contact:

Arizona Voice for Crime Victims or call (480) 600-2661
Arizona Crime Victims Rights Law Group or call (480) 946-0832
Legal Services for Crime Victims in Arizona or call (623) 471-6401
The National Center for Victims of Crime established the National Crime Victim Bar Association (NCVBA) to facilitate civil actions by crime victims. The NCVBA offers victims free referrals to attorneys for consultation. Victims seeking more information or attorney referrals may call 202-467-8716

Torts and Civil Actions Resources and Help