Alongside physical and emotional trauma, many victims of crime find themselves forced to deal with financial difficulties, including:
- Emergency and long-term medical treatments,
- On-going counseling services,
- The situation is made worse if you’re unable to work during recovery,
- or worse, left with a permanent disability.
The families of crime victims face their own unique challenges. Our lawyers understand what you're going through and we know how to help.
"Thank you." They got us the financial help we needed after becoming victims.
How Survivors Can Secure Funding For Out-Of-Pocket Expenses
Historically, victims and their families were given few options to recover compensation in the wake of a life-changing criminal offense. Even people who actively participated in the criminal justice process received little, if any, financial support from the government. Thanks to the work of victim advocates, along with state and federal lawmakers, these conditions are changing for the better.
Victims and families today are offered three distinct avenues to secure financial compensation:
- Court-ordered restitution – convicted offenders can be ordered to pay compensation to victims as part of their sentence
- State crime victim compensation funds – government-run programs, financed by fines on convicted offenders, that provide limited payments to victims
- Civil lawsuit – a separate lawsuit filed specifically to secure compensation, against either a known offender or negligent third-party
In this article, we’ll cover the basics, benefits, and downsides of securing compensation through a state-run crime victim compensation fund.
Does Every State Offer Compensation To Crime Victims?
Every state has a compensation program designed to reimburse crime victims and their families for out-of-pocket expenses related to certain criminal offenses. In most jurisdictions, this funding is available even when no arrest or conviction has been made. That’s a major upside for thousands of victims, since a huge proportion of crimes, even the most violent offenses, will never be resolved by the criminal justice system. One in three homicide cases never lead to an arrest, let alone a conviction.
Click on a link below to learn more about your state’s compensation program:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Washington State
- Washington, D.C.
Securing state compensation always requires some level of participation in criminal justice proceedings.
Victim compensation programs were structured, in large part, to encourage crime victims and families to step forward, report offenses to the authorities and collaborate with investigators and prosecutors in the pursuit of convictions. That’s why every state’s program requires a degree of participation in the criminal justice process:
- Report the crime to the police in a timely manner – almost every state has exceptions for children and people who are incapacitated for some reason
- Cooperate with police, prosecutors and officials at the compensation program during the criminal justice process
- File an application for compensation in a timely manner – state time limits differ, but most states have “good cause” exceptions in cases of delay
A few facts about the actual crime may also shape eligibility evaluations. People who were injured while they were committing a crime themselves are not eligible for compensation. So are people “whose behavior contributed to the crime and injuries suffered” (that language is from New Jersey’s version of the regulation, but most jurisdictions have similar provisions). Criminal offenders, needless to say, are unable to secure compensation themselves.
Is Compensation Available For All Crimes?
Most states make their funds available only to victims of violent crimes. While the definition of violent crime can vary from state-to-state, most jurisdictions include the four basic categories of offense in which force is either used or threatened:
- Assault (including domestic violence)
- Sexual assault (including childhood sexual abuse)
Many states include a wider range of crimes, from kidnapping to tampering with cosmetics. The majority of jurisdictions, however, will have a specific list of crimes that are eligible for compensation, excluding other types of crime.
Who Can Secure Financing?
All 50 states provide compensation to the direct victims of crime, people who have suffered physical personal injuries due to another’s criminal acts. Some states extend this right further, offering compensation to people who have been left with mental or psychological trauma, but not physical injuries.
People who are injured in their attempt to prevent a crime or help a police officer are also covered in most states. Finally, the majority of states offer victim compensation to family members (surviving spouses, parents or legal guardians, children or other dependents) who lost a loved one to a criminal offense.
What Expenses Do Victim Funds Cover?
Crime victim compensation programs aren’t a replacement for more robust compensation sources, like filing a civil lawsuit. State funds offer relief only for “pecuniary” losses: forms of damage that can be immediately quantified, and proven through receipts and bills:
- Medical expenses
- Counseling and therapy expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost financial support
- Funeral and burial expenses
Many state programs also subsidize the costs of participating in the criminal justice system, reimbursing victims for the costs of traveling to court dates and child care. Several jurisdictions go even further. Pennsylvania, for example, also pays for crime scene clean-up and a portion of the costs of relocation when remaining at home would put a victim at risk.
No matter your state’s specific policies, it’s essential to keep copies of every relevant receipt and bill.
The Payer Of Last Resort
The majority of programs act as a “payer-of-last-resort,” stepping in to compensate victims after insurance policies or government benefits have already been exhausted.
New York’s Office of Victim Services, for example, requires that “all other sources of compensation” (Medicaid, workers’ comp, insurance policies, etc.) be depleted before it will cover any of a victim’s financial losses. As a result, compensation funds generally reimburse victims and their families for these costs, rather than paying for them directly.
The Limitations Of State Compensation Programs
Many victims are surprised to learn that filing a civil claim for damages, outside the criminal justice process, is even possible. In fact, victims and affected families may even be able to file lawsuits against third-party property owners whose negligence allowed the crime to occur.
Filing a civil lawsuit and pursuing compensation from a state fund aren’t mutually-exclusive options. Victims and families have every right to make use of both options. With that being said, state compensation programs come along with a number of restrictions and limitations.
No Pain & Suffering Damages
The question of pain and suffering is never considered. Civil lawsuits, on the other hand, frequently result in large damage awards designed specifically to compensate victims and their families for the physical pain and emotional trauma endured as the inevitable result of violent crime. In many cases, these pain and suffering damages will far outstrip those awarded for pecuniary losses.
Restricted Compensation Awards
State funds also restrict the amount of compensation available to each claimant. Though these compensation maximums vary, they generally range from around $10,000 to $100,000, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. Many states also limit the amount that can be paid out for specific expenses.
It’s common to see caps set on compensation for medical expenses and counseling services. Most compensation programs will pay for part, but not all, of an expense. New Jersey, for example, offers up to $5,000 to finance funeral services, despite the average funeral costing nearly double that amount.
Long Wait Times
Compensation funds also tend to be slow. It can take weeks, even months, before victims receive the money they need. As a stop-gap measure, some states have emergency funds to help victims meet their immediate needs, offering payments between $500 and $1,500 to cover food, housing and medications.
Where Does The Money Come From?
State-run crime victim compensation funds are financed almost entirely through fines and fees imposed on criminal offenders, not taxes. A substantial portion of funding also comes from the federal government’s Office for Victims of Crime, which also raises money through fines and fees on convicted federal offenders.