Victim restitution is a type of compensation granted to those who have suffered economic losses as a result of another person’s criminal actions. California law states that victims of crimes are entitled to recover the full amount of their economic loss.
Such losses and expenses may include:
- Bills for medical treatment and therapy
- Damage to a business or its property
- Lost wages (if the victim was unable to work due to the crime)
- Stolen, damaged, or destroyed property
- Any attorney fees incurred by the victim
In a civil case, a defendant (the person who committed the crime) may be ordered to pay victim restitution to the plaintiff (the victim of the crime). However, in some instances, it may be possible for a defendant to offset, or receive a credit, in the amount of this compensation.
When is this okay and when is it an example of a criminal defendant overreaching for credit beyond what the law allows? Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example to find out.
Scenario: DUI Hit & Run
Imagine that a defendant charged as a drunk hit and runner has no auto insurance. However, at the time of his hit and run accident, he was driving his mom’s vehicle and she had it insured. Therefore, his mother’s insurance pays for all the victim’s medical bills in addition to the victim’s own health insurance. The victim—the plaintiff in this scenario—is entitled to a civil action for her damages as well as victim restitution in criminal court for the same scenario. Does the defendant get an offset for the payments made by either his mom’s auto insurance coverage or the victim’s health insurance?
The answer is that neither payment may offset the defendant’s restitution obligation. This is because restitution is meant for rehabilitation and deterrence of this criminal behavior and is specific to the criminal defendant. Therefore, the funds must come from him.
Now, if the auto insurance payment had been from his own auto coverage, then he would be entitled to an offset in his restitution obligation for any damages already paid for by his insurance. This is logical—he paid for the insurance and thus the funds are coming from him. However, he did not pay for his mother’s insurance or negotiate the coverage in any way. As such, he is not entitled to any offset for these funds.
Also, if the criminal defendant had insurance and his insurance paid for all the victim’s medical bills, then he would be entitled to an offset with his restitution obligation, but this does not mean he would owe nothing. Again, another purpose for restitution is not only to compensate for injuries but to deter future criminal conduct. Allowing anything else would defeat the purpose.
Have you been injured due to the criminal actions of another? Get the help you deserve. Reach out to our Ventura personal injury attorneys with your questions by filling out our online contact form or give us a call at (805) 438-2440!
Law: Penal Code section 1202.4; People v. Hamilton (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 932; People v. Hove (1999) 76 Cal. App. 4th 1266, 1272; People v. Birkett (1999) 21 Cal.4th 226