Domestic Violence as a Tort in California (CA Civil Code section 1708.6)

Domestic violence in California┬ácan be treated three ways: (1) as a crime under California Penal Code section 273.5, (2) as a family law offense beginning with California Family Code section 6200 as well as the statutes thereafter (i.e. the California Domestic Violence Prevention Act). This is how Domestic Violence Restraining Orders are issued by a California family court. Both of these are pretty commonplace. There’s a chance you may have heard of one or both of these before.

The third way is perhaps less commonly known: Domestic violence is a civil tort in California for which a lawsuit can be filed just like in a medical malpractice lawsuit or a car accident lawsuit. The governing statute for the tort of domestic violence is California Civil Code section 1708.6. The criteria for this are pretty simple:

  • Plaintiff suffers injury as a result of abuse,
  • Said abuse was intentionally inflicted by the defendant who was in one of the specified relationships under California Penal Code section 13700(a) with the Plaintiff;
  • Plaintiff’s injuries were proximately caused by the abuse inflicted by defendant.

Under section 13700(b), the allowed relationships are: spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, person with whom the defendant has a child, person with whom defendant is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.

The statute of limitations on a Civil code 1708.6 Domestic Violence suit is 3 years from the date of the last abusive act. (California Civil Code section 1708.6(e)). This statute of limitations doesn’t begin until the abuse stops, but the plaintiff can recover for all domestic violence-related injuries during the entirety of the relationship. There’s a 2007 California case called Pugliese that goes over this, if you’re interested.

The remedies that can be obtained are both monetary and injunctive. An employer, for instance, can seek an injunction to protect workers who are domestic violence victims from stalking and threats while at the workplace. Monetary damages can include things like pain and suffering as well as quantifiable losses like lost income, medical bills, therapy, etc. Punitive damages under California Civil Code section 3294 may also be available.

The plaintiff can also recover attorney’s fees and costs under California Civil Code section 1708.6(c), but it is a discretionary award by the court on a case-by-case basis.

I hope all of that helps. As always, this post is meant just as an introduction and is not intended to be comprehensive. As a general rule, please consult with a lawyer to see what unique nuances exist in your particular situation. If you are outside of California, please look up the laws of your particular state to see if a similar tort for domestic violence exists in your state.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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