If you have been assaulted and sustained an injury while officiating, you have likely been thrust into the legal world. Do you need to hire an attorney to protect your interests?
When anyone (sports official or not) is assaulted, two distinct types of legal action can potentially arise: criminal and/or civil.
A criminal case can be brought on behalf of the state against the perpetrator. This can happen if the assaulter is arrested and charged with a crime. Often, local law enforcement will charge a person with the crime based on the sworn statement of the victim. In most areas, this is referred to as “swearing out a warrant.” If you are the victim of an assault, you do not need a lawyer in order to swear out a warrant. The perpetrator may be arrested and brought before a magistrate, or he/she may be simply summoned to appear in court to be formally charged.
As the victim of a criminal attack you are “only” a witness in the state’s criminal case. If convicted, the attacker may face a jail sentence and/or a fine. The fine is paid to the state. The court may also order the attacker to pay some form of restitution (money damages) to you.
The state may make available to you a “victim’s advocate.” However, that person’s role is little more than helping you understand the criminal justice system. A lawyer can provide better assistance with the criminal process.
NASO members who have been assaulted while officiating can receive assistance in finding an attorney and get help with legal fees, medical expenses, lost game fees and wages, travel expenses and other reasonable expenses under the $15,500 Assault Protection Program. It is the only program of its kind to support offiicals in cases of assault.
A civil claim/lawsuit is a wholly separate and independent proceeding. That lawsuit is brought by you against the attacker. A civil lawsuit is for money damages only. You will have to prove your case “by a preponderance of the evidence” (a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” criminal standard). If you win your case, the attacker will owe you money damages. In some cases, if the attacker is covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy, the money may come from the insurance company. Most insurance policies, however, do not cover damages arising from illegal acts. If the attacker cannot pay you, you may be able to force his or her employer to withhold a percentage of wages each pay period until the debt is paid or you may ask the court to force a sale of property to pay the debt. Debt incurred while committing an intentional act is generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
While you are “allowed” to pursue a civil case without an attorney (known as proceeding “pro se”) this is not advisable, as court proceedings can be complex and you will have to follow the court’s procedure and follow the rules of evidence in order to introduce testimony and evidence. Depending on the amount of your claim for damages, and the state you are in, you may have your case determined by a judge or jury.
Ben Glass is a soccer referee and attorney in Fairfax, Va. This column is for informational purposes and not legal advice. *
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