Civil rights violations frequently involve misconduct by law enforcement officers, prison and jail employees, and other government officials. Because these claims are brought against government officials, they often involve complicated legal questions that do not come up when suing a private individual. It is important to have an attorney who understands these legal issues before pursuing a civil rights claim. At Patterson Harkavy, we take on a wide variety of civil rights cases, including those based on police misconduct and brutality, jail and prison misconduct, first amendment violations, and wrongful convictions.
Civil rights cases are particularly difficult to prove. That means you need to have a strong case before you consider filing a complaint. A civil rights case is especially strong where it involves severe misconduct, resulted in substantial and documented harm, affected large numbers of people, or reflects a demonstrated pattern of behavior over time. Talk to a civil rights attorney to discuss the strength of your civil rights case.
Most of the time you cannot sue a private company for violating your civil rights. The Constitution generally only applies to government actors. (There may be other federal or state laws that apply to private actors, such as anti-discrimination laws.) However, there are exceptions for government contractors such as private prisons, adoption agencies, or other companies hired to do the government’s work.
Federal law says you do not have to be physically hurt to collect damages for many constitutional violations. Just the violation itself is often considered a harm you can be compensated for. In some cases, you and your civil rights attorney may be motivated to try to change the government’s policies or make other institutional changes, rather than just seek damages.
Civil rights lawsuits are generally litigated in federal court. North Carolina has three federal district courts: the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts. Which geographic jurisdiction applies depends on where the incident occurred and where the government agency involved is located. When challenging a violation of your rights under the North Carolina constitution, your case is more likely to be litigated in State court, in the county where the incident occurred.
The value of civil rights claims vary widely. Some claims are worth substantial amounts of money, while others are focused on non-monetary, injunctive relief. If the court finds your civil rights have been violated, you may be entitled to recover lost wages, medical expenses, confinement compensation, out-of-pocket expenses, pain and suffering, humiliation, harm to your reputation, punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs. But the availability of any remedy often depends on complex legal questions specific to your case. You should discuss all aspects of your civil rights claim with an attorney to determine what your civil rights lawsuit may be worth.
In North Carolina, many civil rights complaints must be filed within three years of the misconduct. But the specific statute of limitations for your case will depend on the type of claim you are bringing. If you think your civil rights were violated, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible to ensure you meet all applicable deadlines.
Some prisoners, citizens, and residents try to file their civil rights complaints on their own, without a lawyer’s help. However, civil rights law is complicated and recovery is often difficult. To improve your chances of success, you should work with a highly competent team of civil rights attorneys who can help you gather your evidence and make your best case. Contact us today to discuss your claim and see if we can help.