Victimized by the Law: Weird Examples of Penalties Against Crime Victims


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As many judges are fond of saying, ours are courts of law, not courts of justice. “Justice” is an often subjective term that fails to take into consideration the best practices for society at large. Laws are generally intended to create the best outcome for all people in all situations. But, what happens when the best intentions go awry?

For example, we have all heard the stories about the burglar who breaks into a home and injures himself then suing the homeowner. More often than not, such actions are either dismissed or a matter of urban legend, but, as with most such stories, it does have a basis in fact. For example, in many jurisdictions, property owners are legally obligated to protect even trespassers on their property from known hazards. So if an open pit exists somewhere on the property and a trespasser falls into the pit, the property owner could be held liable even though the “victim” was trespassing on the property. This could include a potential burglar.

Another example is the dog bite. In some jurisdictions, animal owners are “strictly liable” for injuries caused by their pets. In other words, if an animal bites someone, regardless of why or whether the owner knew the animal could be dangerous, the owner can be held liable. So, this is again an example of where an animal owner could be held personally liable for injuries suffered by an intruder and inflicted by a guard dog.

Another example arises when one is recovering stolen property. Laws related to impound of vehicles usually pertain to wrongdoer's whose cars are towed to an impound lot for one reason or another. Laws will typically require those whose property is impounded in this way to pay fees to the lot owner for keeping the car, and if unpaid, can entitle the lot owner to sell the vehicle or take other actions to recover reasonable impound fees. The idea is to ensure the lot owners get paid for use of their property. But, in some instances, when a vehicle is recovered after a theft, the same impound fees may apply... to the rightful owner of the property! Imagine getting the call that your stolen car has been found and if you want it back you will have to pay impound fees or face losing your car and potentially your license or suffering other penalties for not paying.

Many other examples exist, often as a result of the facts of the particular case. For example, when two are in a physical altercation, the instigator is often let off the hook by the authorities while the one who was defending themselves is arrested. This is usually a result of the particular circumstances of the fight, such as if a female started the fight against a male, but the male is substantially larger than the female. There are also instances where someone has died, often at war or for political reasons, and protesters show up at the funeral, antagonizing the mourners, but allowed to do so because they are exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. For the same reason, various groups identified as “hate groups” have often been allowed to have rallies or march in parades despite their history of violent attacks on minorities or others so long as they remain peaceful during the particular event.

Fortunately, in some instances, something can be done. It may require an attorney who is capable of thinking “outside the box,” but the great thing about the law is that it often provides remedies even in situations like these. For example, the owner of the stolen car who has to pay impound fees may be able to sue the thief civilly for damages resulting from the theft, including the impound fees. If you think you are in such a situation, you should contact an experienced attorney in your area for guidance in dealing with these situations. An attorney may be able to offer guidance on overcoming these situations or provide advice as to how to mitigate any possible harm.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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