The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government. It states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Recently in Virginia, there have been reports of disturbing, if not shocking, acts of violence against individuals engaged in peaceful protests regarding racial violence and inequality. In Richmond, a man who self-identifies as a Ku Klux Klan leader and describes himself as a “propagandist for Confederate ideology” drove his truck through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, causing injuries. He was arrested on charges of attempted malicious wounding and destruction of property with intent, and is being held without bond. There have also been accounts of individuals passing out water bottles poisoned with bleach and attacking protestors with frozen paintballs.
This article outlines steps that you can take if you or a loved one has been injured during a protest.
1. Preserve Evidence
In order to obtain justice against the attacker through the criminal or civil justice systems, you will need evidence. Evidence can be in the form of witness testimony, photographs, videos, emails, text messages, documents, or physical evidence such as a poisoned water bottle, a frozen paintball, or items of clothing stained with dirt or blood.
If you or a companion has a cell phone, use it. Take photographs and videos of the individuals, vehicles, and items involved in the attack. At trial, a picture can be worth a thousand words.
2. Identify Witnesses
If possible, get the names and contact information of other individuals who witnessed the attack. If it is not possible in the moment to get witness information, or if the witnesses are unwilling to share their information with you, it might be possible to identify them at a later time from photographs and videos, or by other means.
3. Get Medical Treatment
If you or a loved one has been injured, seek medical treatment. Federal and State laws require medical care professionals in hospitals, clinics, and offices to keep your identity, your information, and details about your injuries strictly confidential. These laws apply to all medical care providers – doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, technicians, and their staff. Do not put off getting medical treatment because you are worried about being identified or fear retaliation. You are protected by federal law, state law, and patient/physician confidentiality.
4. Consult an Attorney
Virginia law allows injured individuals to be compensated for medical bills and expenses (including medical expenses that will be required in the future), medications, physical pain and discomfort, mental anguish and suffering, and the inconvenience of being injured and having to undergo medical treatment. Virginia law also allows compensation for permanent injuries, deformities and disfigurements (including burns and scars), wage loss (if the injuries and treatment caused the individual to miss time from work), future wage loss (if the injuries and treatment will cause the individual to miss work in the future), and lost earning capacity (if the injured person is no longer able to work in their current job).
If you have questions about your rights, would like to know more about financial compensation, or are ready to pursue a legal claim against your attacker, an attorney can help. If you are concerned that speaking with an attorney will reveal your identity and make you a target of retaliation, don’t be. Attorneys and their staff are strictly and ethically prohibited from violating the attorney-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality. This means that they cannot reveal your identity, the details of the incident, or the content of your conversations and communications without your consent.
5. Seek Justice
In addition to financial compensation for your injuries, you might be entitled to punitive damages. Punitive damages are monetary awards, in addition to financial compensation, that are designed to send a message that the wrongful conduct will not be tolerated. The purpose of punitive damages is threefold: (1) to punish the wrongdoer who committed the attack, (2) to deter the wrongdoer from committing future attacks, and (3) to deter others (like members of racist hate groups who might commit similar attacks) from engaging in similar conduct. Punitive damages are not available in routine personal injury cases, but they can be powerful and effective tools in cases where wrongdoers intentionally and deliberately set out to harm others.
Allen & Allen is committed to equality and social justice. We are an experienced personal injury law firm that has helped injury victims for more than 100 years. If you have questions about this article, what to do if you or a loved one has been injured in a protest, or seeking compensation, call us. We are here for you.