Joran Van der Sloot and his father, Paulus, are both named as defendants in a wrongful death suit filed by the parents of missing Alabama teen, Natalee Holloway.
They were served with court papers Thursday in New York, where they had arrived for a media interview.
The documents allege that Joran Van der Sloot is responsible for inflicting "torment, terror and debasement" during the last hours of Natalee's life. The lawsuit also alleges that Joran's father was an enabler of his son's "violent and anti-social lifestyle."
Meridian attorney David Linder says, in this type of civil matter, the courts do not have to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"In a civil case such as this case, you have to prove simply that the scales balance in favor of the plaintiff over the defendant," Linder said. "The plaintiff has to prove that more likely than not the events are as they say."
Natalee's parents could collect actual damages for emotional loss and for Natalee's lost lifetime income, but the most satisfaction would likely come in the form of punitive damages.
"Punitive damages means punishment damages, and you have that type of damages when there is an intentional type of conduct," said Linder.
Should the case be decided in favor of the plaintiffs, any assets the defendants have within the U.S. could then be seized against the judgment.
However, if the Van der Sloots have no assets within the U.S., Natalee's parents are back at square one. They would have to register the verdict with Aruban authorities in hopes of collecting a judgment.