Have you or a loved one suffered physical or emotional trauma after becoming the victim of a violent or sexual crime? You may have several concerns:
- Is compensation available for medical expenses?
- What if we can't afford therapy and counseling?
- What losses does New Jersey's compensation system cover?
- How can a lawyer help our family?
Our New Jersey crime victims' lawyers are prepared to get your family the help you need during your recovery.
"Thank you." We were struggling to recover, but they got us the benefits we needed.
New Jersey’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office was established to offer survivors of crime, along with some families, funding for essential services, including medical care and lost wages. Every year, the Office provides around 4,000 victims and their loved ones with necessary compensation, paying out between $8 million and $10 million annually.
How New Jersey’s Victim Compensation Program Works
Crime victim compensation is an absolutely essential service that helps thousands of people get back on their feet after being injured or otherwise impacted by crime. But like all state-run compensation programs, New Jersey’s benefits program comes with a variety of strict limitations. As just one example, the total amount of compensation available for any one claim is set at a maximum of $25,000.
While there are exceptions for people who have suffered “catastrophic” injuries, and $25,000 is a significant amount of money, many victims and families will require far more than that to adequately recover from extremely traumatic experiences.
Moreover, New Jersey’s victim compensation fund only provides financing for specific expenses, leaving out many of the critical damages available to civil plaintiffs. Important, too, is the fact that New Jersey’s program requires a level of participation with the criminal justice system, setting nonnegotiable time limits on reporting a crime and filing an application with the State’s compensation board.
Of course, none of these hurdles should dissuade victims or families from filing a claim with the Victims of Crime Compensation Office. Compensation is compensation, after all, but it’s also true that many crime victims in New Jersey may be eligible to file a civil lawsuit and secure the maximum compensation available under law. These two remedies are not mutually-exclusive; victims have every right to file a claim with the Victims of Crime Compensation Office and pursue compensation through the civil justice system.
Crime victim compensation programs are structured to support two goals: support victims of crime through their time of need and encourage victims to step forward, report criminal activity and participate in the prosecution of offenders. This second goal is important. To secure compensation, victims and families in New Jersey are required to take an active role in the criminal justice system:
- the crime must be reported within nine (9) months of commission, or within nine months of the date a victim knew, or should have known, that a crime had been committed
- the claim for compensation must be filed within three (3) years of the personal injury or date of death; exceptions are made for victims who can demonstrate that a delay in filing happened for “good cause”
- the victim or family (filing in the wake of a loved one’s death) must cooperate fully with law enforcement officials, including the police and prosecutors, along with the Victims of Crime Compensation Office
The Victims of Crime Compensation Office will deny benefits when a victim or family fails to cooperate with the law enforcement community, including the Office itself. Changes of address should be promptly reported to the Office to avoid a denial.
Who Is Eligible For Benefits?
Compensation is available for crimes that were committed in New Jersey, although the victim need not be a resident of the State to secure benefits. New Jersey residents who were injured in other states or foreign countries can apply for compensation through the Victims of Crime Compensation Office, unless the jurisdiction in which they were harmed has its own crime victim compensation program. In that case, victims will need to apply for benefits with the state or country in which they were injured. A third group of people will be able to file an additional claim in New Jersey if another state’s compensation program could or would not provide full compensation for their crime-related losses.
New Jersey’s victim compensation program awards benefits to three classes of individual:
- Victims of crime who have suffered personal injury, mental trauma or death
- Surviving spouse, parent, legal guardian, child or other relative who was dependent for support on someone who died as a direct result of criminal activity
- Good Samaritans, who suffered injuries while attempting to prevent a crime or while assisting a law enforcement official make an arrest
Likewise, a number of individuals who suffered injuries during the commission of criminal activity are left out, considered ineligible for compensation under New Jersey law:
- Criminal offenders and their accomplices
- Victims who were engaged in illegal activity at the time of the crime
- Victims whose behavior contributed to the crime’s commission and their own injuries
- Incarcerated persons who suffered personal injury while imprisoned
- Most (but not all) victims injured in motor vehicle or boating accidents
- Exception: Victims injured by drivers who were under the influence of alcohol or narcotics are generally entitled to compensation, expect in cases where the victim knew, or had reason to believe, that the vehicle was being operated under the influence.
New Jersey doesn’t treat all activities prohibited by the State’s criminal code equally. The Victims of Crime Compensation Office is primarily focused on violent crimes, although a narrow list of financial crimes are also covered. In the next section, we’ll discuss the range of crimes for which compensation may be available.
Eligible Criminal Acts
It’s important to note from the outset that New Jersey’s victim compensation program is designed to offer financing to victims who suffered personal injuries or death, along with their families. Property losses or damage to personal property is not compensated. Thus, while burglary is considered compensable under New Jersey’s scheme, the State will only award benefits to victims of burglary who suffered physical injuries, emotional trauma or death as a direct result of burglary. The State’s inclusion of “emotional trauma” as an eligible injury, on the other hand, is rather broad. As we’ll see, being threatened with bodily harm is a compensable form of crime, regardless of whether or not harm was actually caused.
- Threats to do bodily harm
- Aggravated assault
- Sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault
- Criminal sexual contact and aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Indecent acts with children
- Lewd, indecent or obscene acts
- Domestic violence
- Any other crime involving violence
- Motor vehicle and boat accidents in which the driver was under the influence of alcohol or narcotics
- Motor vehicle theft or eluding a law enforcement official in a stolen motor vehicle when the victim sustains injuries while the vehicle is being operated
- Tampering with a cosmetic, drug or food product
While many of these criminal categories should be clear, you’ve probably noticed that other categories rely for their meaning on New Jersey’s idiosyncratic criminal code. To define these ambiguous concepts, we’ll take a closer look at the State’s criminal laws:
- Lewd, indecent or obscene acts
- Masturbating or exposing one’s genitals in a public place where the offender knows or should know that another person will see them and become offended
- Masturbating or exposing one’s genitals in front a child under the age of 13 or a person with a mental disability (regardless of location)
- Indecent acts with children
- Includes a broad range of criminal acts, from child abuse to abandonment and neglect
- Criminal sexual contact (as opposed to assault)
- intentional touching of the victim’s genitals, buttocks, anus, inner thigh or breasts with the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or, alternatively, with the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying the offender
What Losses Will New Jersey Cover?
Beyond the $25,000 limit applied to compensation awards overall, many individual categories of loss come with their own limits. Below, you’ll find a list of every type of damage considered compensable under New Jersey’s program, along with their respective dollar value limits where applicable:
- Medical expenses (including chiropractic services, physical therapy and necessary transportation to and from medical appointments)
- Mental health counseling
- $12,500 – injured crime victim
- $12,500 – survivor of victim’s death in homicide cases
- $7,000 – secondary victims (those traumatized by a crime committed against a family member of loved one)
- Rehabilitation therapies
- $35,000 (available only to victims who have suffered catastrophic injuries)
- Lost wages (available only in cases of physical injury)
- $600 per week; maximum of 104 weeks for direct victim
- 60 months of lost wages for victims left permanently disabled
- $7,000 – secondary victims who care for the crime’s primary victim
- Loss of financial support (available to dependents in cases of homicide)
- 48 months of lost financial support
- Funeral and burial expenses
- $200 per person or $1,000 total for transportation to and from funeral
- Crime Scene Cleanup
- Relocation expenses (when moving is required to protect the safety of victims and their families)
- Household services
- Child care (including day care)
- Attorneys Fees
- $125 per hour up to $3,000 (victims’ rights attorney in criminal proceedings)
- 15% of total compensation award (attorney in Victims of Crime Compensation Office proceedings)
The State does not cover pain and suffering, damages available in a civil action to compensate victims for the experience of physical pain and emotional trauma. Lawsuits filed through the civil justice system also offer the possibility of punitive damages, which are awarded to punish defendants who acted in a particularly reckless manner.
What Does Payer-Of-Last-Resort Mean?
Every state-run victims compensation program, including the one in New Jersey, act as payers-of-last-resort. That means the Victims of Crime Compensation Office will only pay out benefits after other sources of funding have been exhausted. Need medical care? Victim compensation only kicks in after your health insurance policy has run out of coverage (though note that benefits can be secured to cover out-of-pocket medical costs, including co-pays and money needed to meet your deductible). In brief, you will have to exhaust your other resources before being granted benefits from the Victims of Crime Compensation Office.
- Court-ordered restitution
- Government benefit programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid)
- State government assistance programs (including Disability)
- Employer disability payments (both private and union)
- Workers’ compensation
- Health, homeowners, renters and / or life insurance policies
Awards from civil lawsuit verdicts or settlements are also considered in determining an applicant’s eligibility, but the first $1,000 of any civil recovery is disregarded, even though many plaintiffs win pain and suffering damages, for which New Jersey’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office does not provide compensation.
What Do I Need To Apply?
You can now apply for victims compensation online, using the Claims Processing System here. Alternatively, you can download the form at this link, print it out and submit it to the Victims of Crime Compensation Office after you’re done.
Need help? Contact the prosecutor’s office in your county and speak with a Victim Coordinator, who can help you figure out which expenses to claim and how to fill out the application. In addition, every medical institution and law enforcement office in New Jersey is required to keep these applications on hand and make them available to victims.
Alongside the application itself, you’ll also need to supply the Victims of Crime Compensation Office with relevant documentation, most importantly a copy of the police report and any itemized receipts or bills for which you are filing the claim. Also include any statements from your insurance company, both approvals and denials. Provide as much information as you can; the more you send in, the sooner the Office will be able to render a decision.
How Long Before I Get Benefits?
Securing compensation can take a while. The Office needs to investigate your claim thoroughly, speaking to police, prosecutors and witnesses to determine eligibility. Victims who need money fast can apply for an emergency award, with a maximum amount of $1,500, which is available for people who are employed but unable to work and facing significant hardships due to their crime-related injuries.