In legal terms, conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to accomplish a criminal act or a legal act through criminal means.
For example, if two people make an agreement to rob a bank, an illegal act, then they will have committed conspiracy at the time the agreement was made.
What Is Civil Conspiracy?
Similar to the conspiracy definition above, civil conspiracy occurs when two or more people agree to engage in a criminal act or an activity to accomplish an unlawful purpose or goal, with an injury to a bystander occurring as a result.
As such, the elements required to prove an individual engaged in civil conspiracy are:
- Two or more conspirators agree to work together to achieve an unlawful goal;
- Two or more conspirators agree or understand the objective and the manner to achieve the unlawful objective;
- Two or more conspirators commit an unlawful act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and
- A person not party to the conspirators is injured as a result of the civil conspiracy.
It is important to note that civil conspiracy cannot be brought as a civil action on its own. This means that a plaintiff (i.e. an injured party) cannot sue someone for civil conspiracy alone. Instead, a civil conspiracy claim must be brought in by another civil claim/tort. As noted above, a civil conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an unlawful act. As such, there will always be an unlawful action on which a civil conspiracy claim is based.
How Do Criminal Conspiracy and Civil Conspiracy Differ?
As can be seen, civil conspiracy overlaps greatly with criminal conspiracy. This is because criminal and civil conspiracy are very similar legal wrongs, and must be proven by similar legal elements. However, the main difference between civil and criminal conspiracy, is that civil conspiracy involves a tortious action, while criminal conspiracy involves a criminal act.
Specifically, criminal conspiracy is a criminal act. This means that criminal conspirators are punished by the government for their criminal actions. In fact, in many states an individual can face criminal penalties ranging from jail time for 2 to 30 years, serious criminal fines of up to $10,000 or more, or a combination of both.
Although the exact legal definition will differ from state to state, in general criminal conspiracy is a crime once two or more people agree to commit an unlawful objective. Some states also require that an unlawful act be completed in furtherance of the conspiracy in order for an individual to be found guilty of criminal conspiracy.
On the other hand, civil conspiracy is a tort or civil wrong. Instead of the government punishing the person for committing the conspiracy, a private person will be the one who sues and is awarded civil damages if they are injured by a civil conspiracy.
As such, civil conspiracy only exists when a person is injured as a result of an unlawful act in furtherance of the conspiracy. This means that if a person is only injured because of the agreement to commit a crime by two or more people, they will have no cause of action.
Additionally, conspirators who injure an individual as a result of their unlawful act in furtherance of a conspiracy are jointly and severally liable for the injured person’s damages. This means that any of the conspirators may be liable for all of the injured party’s damages, independent of the other conspirators. However, the injured party may not collect the full amount of their damages from multiple conspirators.
What Is Considered an Act in Furtherance of an Agreement?
As mentioned above, in order to bring a civil conspiracy claim against a conspirator, the conspirators must have committed an act in furtherance of the agreement. This means that the tortious act which injured the plaintiff must have been committed in furtherance of the conspiracy agreement.
Going back to the robbing a bank example, an act in furtherance of the agreement might be proven by showing that the conspirators acquired weapons and entered the building brandishing the weapons towards the bank patrons. Then, if one of the patrons fell and injured themselves at the sight of the weapons, regardless of if the conspirators actually robbed the bank, then that patron may be able to civilly sue the conspirators for civil conspiracy.
What Are the Possible Damages for Civil Conspiracy?
As mentioned above, all members of the civil conspiracy may be liable for any injuries suffered by any party that was injured as a result of the civil conspiracy. Importantly, this is still true even if the conspirators did not commit the act that ultimately hurt the plaintiff.
For example, in the bank robbery scenario, if the conspirators came into the bank with fake weapons, and a security officer immediately fired upon them striking an innocent bank patron, then the conspirators may be responsible for the damages suffered by the injured patron.
This also means that any co-conspirator can be held liable for injuries inflicted on a plaintiff even if they specifically did not actively engage in the acts which caused the injury to the plaintiff. Back to the robbery example, a getaway driver would be liable for all damages suffered to any plaintiff as a result of the other conspirators.
Similar to other torts, the tortious or wrongful acts taken as part of the conspiracy must have proximately caused the damages that were suffered by the plaintiff. Further, the damages suffered by the plaintiff must be quantifiable. This means that there must have been some monetary damages suffered by a plaintiff, such as medical expenses and bills.
Examples of common civil conspiracy damages include:
- Monetary damages associated with a plaintiff’s medical bills and expenses;
- Monetary damages associated with a plaintiff’s lost wages;
- Monetary damages associated with a plaintiff’s loss of earning capacity;
- Monetary damages associated with a plaintiff’s future medical bills or expenses as a result of their injury;
- Monetary damages associated with property damages; and
- Punitive damages, i.e. damages that may be awarded at the discretion of the court in order to punish a defendant when their actions were especially harmful.
- It is important to note that punitive damages are not often awarded in civil conspiracy claims, and there is typically a limit as to the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded dependent upon the state statutes.
It is important to note that even if a plaintiff fails to prove all of the elements of their civil conspiracy claim, the plaintiff may still be able to recover damages as a result of the underlying tort that was committed in the civil conspiracy. For example, a plaintiff harmed as a result of a bank robbery attempt, may still be able to recover damages as a result of a civil assault or battery claim. A civil conspiracy attorney would be able to assist you in determining what civil claims to bring against what defendants in order to fully recover for any damages suffered.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Have Been Injured by a Civil Conspiracy?
If you believe that you have been injured as a result of a civil conspiracy, it is in your best interests to immediately consult with an experienced civil lawyer.
An experienced commercial lawyer that is knowledgeable in civil conspiracies will be able to assist you in initiating a civil claim against any and all conspirators, or other party that may be responsible for the damages you suffered. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent your interests in court, as necessary.