Judge Assaf Zagury of the Family Court in Tiberias recently gave a very good decision, which you can see, in Hebrew, here. . I think that it is significant for at least couple of reasons.
First, although it’s not the first time the courts have awarded damages for physical abuse, there aren’t that many cases where this is done. So, I hope this is a growing trend both in terms of women filing for damages, and the courts awarding monetary damages to a woman who suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband.
These cases are still making the news, since, as I said, they are not that common. My experience has been that many woman are reluctant to file these suits once they are out of the abusive relationship, since they don’t want to stir up the trauma. I did file – and win – one such suit which I wrote about here.
The second reason Judge Zagury’s decision is important has to do with another reason these cases are a challenge to litigate and win; in many cases it is difficult to procure the evidence necessary to substantiate the woman’s claims as to the abuse, so that it’s her word against his. In the suit which I filed, there was a criminal conviction against my client’s ex-husband, which allowed us to overcome this problem.
In the case before Judge Zagury, there was one criminal conviction, but the woman, an Israeli Muslim woman, sued for compensation for a number of violent incidents, incidents which were not prosecuted. Although the woman had sought medical treatment after some of these incidents, she did not file police complaints regarding most of them.
The judge showed sensitivity to the hesitation of the woman to go to the police in light of her personal vulnerability due to issues in her family of origin, and because of cultural stigmas in her community attached to going to the police.
Ultimately, in the evidentiary calculus, the judge ruled that the doctor’s records, and the fact that there was one criminal conviction were sufficient to provide the additional substantiation the law requires to accept the woman’s testimony as the more probable of the two.
The trend to use tort law as a means of promulgating judicial and ultimately social, policy, is a welcome one. My vision is that more women who have emerged from these devastating relationships will take courage from those who have won such cases and follow their example.