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Falsely Accused: Do I Have a Civil Case?

When someone is the victim of a false criminal accusation, it could potentially ruin their personal and professional life. Though the accuser may eventually recant, too often the damage cannot be undone. A civil lawsuit may be the victim’s only choice to recover their losses, which might include lost wages, mental anguish, or damage to their reputation.

The majority of civil lawsuits involving false accusations are based on either:

  • False imprisonment and/or malicious prosecution or
  • Defamation of character (libel or slander)

False Imprisonment and/or Malicious Prosecution

You may be able to receive compensation from someone if they initiated a civil or criminal case against you, or had someone do this on their behalf. This is also true for false imprisonment. In both scenarios, three criteria must be met and proven:

  1. They did this knowing that the accusation against you was false
  2. They did this with a wrongful purpose or improper motive
  3. You received a ruling or judgement of innocence in the civil or criminal case

For the most part, municipalities, district attorneys, and prosecutors are immune to the charge of malicious prosecution. That makes it virtually impossible to win a civil lawsuit against them. A DC personal injury lawyer can review your case to help determine whether or not you have grounds for a civil lawsuit.

Defamation of Character

There are two types of character defamation; libel and slander. They both involve harmful, false statements that can damage the victim’s reputation. There is one main differentiator between the two.


To qualify as libel, the accusation must be made in writing or otherwise published such as on a website, newspaper, or in a book.


Slander is an accusation voiced to a third party; someone other than the accuser or the victim.

In most states, falsely accusing another of a crime is automatically considered defamatory and the court’s assumption is that your reputation was harmed as a result.

A 2015 article in National Review quotes from a study showing that between 2% and 10% of rape allegations are provably false. In another 44% of alleged rapes the case does not proceed. Sometimes this is because the accuser becomes uncooperative or refuses to pursue the case. At that point, however, the victim may have already suffered mental anguish as well as damage to reputation and career.


A false accusation can devastate a victim emotionally and financially. The justice system allows for the victim to seek damages from the accuser and may include:

  • Lost wages. Depending on the circumstances, the false accusation may result in the victim losing their job.
  • Lost future wages. The victim may have a difficult time getting a new job because they are still associated with the false accusation.
  • Harm to reputation. A person may have worked their entire adult life to earn a good reputation, but a false accusation can potentially ruin it.
  • Embarrassment, humiliation, and mental anguish. The nature of the false accusation may devastate the victim and lead to extreme depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

Assigning a dollar value to non-tangible damage is challenging and subjective. An experienced attorney can offer a professional opinion as to how damages may apply in your situation. Has your personal life, career, or business suffered serious damage from a false accusation? We may be able to win you compensation for your damages. Contact us as soon as possible to discuss your case with one of our attorneys during a no-obligation free consultation.

Thanks to our friends and co-contributors at Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their added insight into the potential civil repercussions of a false accusation.

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