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What are Civil Remedies?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 16, 2024
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A civil remedy refers to the remedy that a party has to pay to the victim of a wrong he commits. A civil remedy is generally separate form a criminal remedy, although in certain situations the civil and criminal remedy may be related. Civil remedies require the cooperation of the victim and are voluntary.

When a person commits a wrong against someone else, this wrong can give rise to both criminal and civil liability. For example, if an individual steals something, he has broken a criminal law and is subject to criminal prosecution. The person he stole something from is also entitled to bring a civil lawsuit in order to recover for the loss of the item that was stolen. Civil remedies are most often monetary. They may include actual damages, such as lost wages or lost valuables, as well as pain and suffering.

There are several important differences between civil remedies and criminal remedies. In common law systems, civil remedies and criminal remedies must be pursued in different courts. The rules between the relationship between civil and criminal remedies differ in some situations, however; for example, in homicide cases in some areas, the civil remedy is merged with the criminal remedy.

In a criminal action, a government official must bring the lawsuit and seek the remedy. The victim need not press charges, nor even cooperate, in order for a prosecutor to bring a criminal action against an individual when the law is violated. The prosecutor pursues criminal remedies — including fines and jail time — in order to maintain public order.

The purpose of civil remedies is different. Only a victim who has been wronged can bring a civil suit seeking civil remedies. This means an accident victim or a person who is a victim can bring a civil remedy to recover against the person who caused his injury. In the United States, this is done under tort law.

The family and relations of the family may also bring a lawsuit in certain circumstances, such as wrongful death, if that family member was also injured by the damage to the victim. For example, if a man's wife was injured in an accident, he may have been wronged by his wife's injury. He may be able to sue for loss of companionship or for the emotional distress he suffered as a result of his wife's injury. Civil remedies, therefore, are designed primarily to make victims whole, or put them back in the position they would have been in but for the wrong that injured them.

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Discussion Comments
By jimmyev — On Mar 21, 2019

What about sex offender registration, this is civil but has criminal penalties. How can a person be forced to register after sentence is completed? Can u.C.C. 1-308 be applied to reservation of rights?

By anon985743 — On Jan 19, 2015

The sex offender registry is said to be a civil remedy, but according to this article, it bears no resemblance to a civil remedy. What is going on then?

By anon298953 — On Oct 22, 2012

@Ivan83: Yes it would be monetary compensation for an injury.

By Ivan83 — On Apr 19, 2012

When I was a kid another boy in my grade cut his finger on the top of a metal fruit cup and his parents sued the company. I heard that they were awarded almost $15,000 but I was a kid so this number could be off. Is this considered a civil remedy?

By tigers88 — On Apr 19, 2012
@chivebasil - I agree with all your points, but what is the solution? It is never an easy thing when you restrict access to the justice system. That kind of thing gets deep into the heart of the constitution and our expectations as American citizens.

I know that there are too many lawsuits, but who can choose between what is valid and invalid? It raises so many ethical and logistical questions that I can't see any solution besides leaving the system as it is.

By chivebasil — On Apr 18, 2012
It seems like the sums awarded in some civil cases are astronomical and I think they have gone up in the last few decades or so. It gets said all the time, but it deserves to be repeated. We live in an overly litigious society. The idea of getting rich overnight and avenging the slightest wrong in the court system has lead to an avalanche of frivolous and overblown lawsuits.
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