Restitution is a monetary penalty imposed on a criminal defendant who causes injuries to someone during the commission of a crime; it is intended to rehabilitate a defendant and deter future crime. People v. Vasquez (2010) 190 Cal. App. 4th 1126, 1133.
Victims of crime often experience both physical and emotional injuries as a result. An example is a DUI motor vehicle collision. In these cases, the defendant drunk driver is charged criminally, but often there is a civil case for personal injuries opened at the same time. The injured victim is entitled to both restitution in the criminal case and damages in the civil case. California Code of Civil Procedure § 32 states: “When the violation of a right admits of both a civil and criminal remedy the right to prosecute the one is not merged in the other…” and California Penal Code § 9 provides that civil remedies for criminal acts are preserved. Therefore, a victim of crime that experiences injuries can recover through both a restitution order in the criminal case prosecuted by the district attorney and a settlement or judgment in the civil case prosecuted by a private attorney. See Vigilant Ins. Co. v. Chiu (2009) 175 Cal. App. 4th 438, 445.
The difference in these two remedies, criminal restitution vs. civil damages, is that a victim of crime’s restitution order is limited to economic losses (e.g. medical bills, lost wages, etc.), whereas a civil judgment can include all available damages, including economic losses, noneconomic losses (e.g. diminished quality of life) and punitive damages. Vasquez, supra, 190 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1132: “A restitution order reimburses the crime victim for only economic losses; non economic losses, such as pain and suffering, are recoverable in a civil action.”
The criminal case will often resolve before the civil case and the defendant will be ordered to start making payments on the restitution order before a settlement or judgment is achieved. The restitution payments are often small (i.e. $50-$100 per month) and are based on the defendant’s ability to pay since he or she is paying the restitution personally. However, the defendant is entitled to an offset if his or her liability insurance compensates the injured victim for the economic losses. If the defendant is uninsured and the injured victim’s uninsured motorist insurance policy pays the victim, then the defendant does not get an offset and will still need to personally pay the restitution order.
If you are a victim of crime, such as a DUI collision, and experience injuries as a result, you are entitled to compensation. The different remedies available can be challenging to navigate and it is best to speak with a private attorney as soon as possible to discuss and evaluate your options. Most personal injury attorneys do free consultations, so it is well worth your time to at least sit down with a lawyer and make sure you are protecting your rights and getting justice for you and your family.