No criminal justice system is perfect. In the United States there are many individuals who remain free despite having committed a crime. Sometimes this is due to them or their crime not being discovered and other times there just isn't enough evidence to get a criminal conviction. The thought that the perpetrator of a crime may escape without penalty can leave victims and their loved ones with a sense of hopelessness and injustice. For some, a civil lawsuit may be able to fill the legal void left by the criminal justice system when it fails.
The parents of a 17-year-old Georgia boy who was found dead in his high school's gymnasium wrapped in a gym mat have filed suit against the school and its administrators. Although the findings of the federal review of the case are still pending, there have been two autopsies conducted. The first autopsy, conducted by Georgia's Bureau of Investigation, concluded that the boy's death was an accident. This prompted the young man's parents to have a second private autopsy conducted. The second autopsy not only revealed possible mishandling of the boy's remains but concluded that the boy died of non-accidental blunt force trauma. The parents' wrongful death suit alleges that the victim died at the hands of another student on school property during the school's normal business hours and that the school failed to take proper steps to protect the victim from harm.
Unlike criminal cases, the burden of proof needed to prove one's case in civil court only rises to the level of preponderance of evidence. The burden to prove the allegations against the defendant lies with the plaintiff, but they must only do so to the point that it is more likely than not that the facts of the case are as they presented them. This means that even if there wasn't enough evidence to meet the criminal court's beyond-a-reasonable-doubt burden of proof standard, a party can still be successful in civil court.
No lawsuit can turn back the hands of time and prevent what has happened, but they can start the clock again and help victims and their loved ones recover for the loss of a loved one.
Source: CBS News, "Wrongful death suit against school system in gym mat death," Stephanie Slifer, July 29, 2014