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When Police or Prosecutors Won't Act: 3 Ways to Sue in Civil Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

It may be frustrating when police or prosecutors don't take action when someone has wronged you, but you have rights to recover in civil court.

Even if an investigation has cleared someone of criminal liability, you can still sue that person for the damages they're responsible for. Pop star Justin Bieber recently learned this the hard way after being slapped with a civil suit over an alleged hit-and-run in 2013, after police determined no crime had been committed.

Here are three common ways to sue for damage or injuries that may not rise to the level of criminal culpability:

1. Battery.

When someone hits you, whether it is with a car or a fist, you may wish to pursue criminal charges. But as is often the case, police may conclude that no criminal laws were broken -- like with Bieber's 2013 alleged striking of a paparazzo with his Ferrari.

But you have legal rights outside of criminal court. One option is to sue your attacker for battery for any injuries caused by non-consensual, intentional contact with your body or even clothing.

Even if a hit-and-run ended with the errant driver not being criminally charged, any damage to you or your car may be recoverable in civil court. In Bieber's case, the alleged victim is suing for extensive injuries to his leg, including deep venous thrombosis, that he claims stemmed from the incident.

2. Conversion (aka Theft, Deprivation, or Misuse of Your Property).

There are many situations in which a person has control of your property and is keeping you from enjoying it, but it may not be criminal theft.

Regardless of whether there have been theft charges filed, if you believe someone has taken or deprived you of the use of your property, you can sue the person for conversion. Unlike criminal theft, property does not need to be permanently deprived for a plaintiff to recover (e.g., when property is misused without permission).

3. Negligence.

Many criminal laws require a person to knowingly or intentionally act in a way that leads to damage or injury. However, there may be careless acts which lead to real consequences for you or your loved ones which are not criminal.

For example, a person who accidentally sets fire to your shared apartment complex may not be criminally charged, but you may be able to recover the damages from him or her under a negligence theory.

Don't feel defeated if police don't act or if prosecutors don't press charges. Remember you still have options for recovery in civil court.

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