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Proposition 114 offers balance in lawsuit issue
Our state constitution has a very strong prohibition against limiting the ability of anyone to seek compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit. And that includes criminals who may decide to sue their victims for harming them.
It is rare in America for criminals to be given that right. Only Arizona and a few other states allow criminals to sue, and a proposition on the November ballot seeks to amend the state constitution to change that.
Proposition 114 – also known as the “Crime Victims Protection Act of 2012” – would continue to protect civil damage lawsuits “except that a crime victim is not subject to a claim for damages by a person who is harmed while the person is attempting to engage in, engaging in or fleeing after having engaged in or attempted to engage in conduct that is classified as a felony offense.”
The requirement that it be a felony offense is critical in our view, although we would prefer that it said a violent felony offense.
The case that originally generated the proposition involved a shoplifter who had stolen a bottle of lotion from a store. Clearly, that crime is not a death penalty offense, yet a security guard who put the man in a choke hold to restrain him ended up asphyxiating him. The man's wife sued the security firm for damages from the death and the company eventually settled out of court after the a court rejected the firm's claim that criminals have no right to sue those who harm them.
The ruling said the state constitution protects the right to sue and victims can't be automatically exempted from facing a lawsuit, even if those seeking damages are criminals who harmed them. Changing that requires amending the constitution, which Prop 114 seeks to do.
Voters will have to decide if this universal protection of victims is appropriate. There seems to be little opposition and that is understandable. Most people don't want a victim to be vulnerable to a civil lawsuit from a criminal who seriously harms them.
Saying that it applies only to felony criminals helps provide some assurance that only those committing violent or very serious crimes would be impacted. There is also, of course, the option of criminal charges being filed against victims who act inappropriately and wrongfully harm someone committing a crime. This proposition only prohibits civil damages. Most voters we believe will decide it is an acceptable trade-off.