Restitution to Victims of Drunk Driving

Sentencing for DUI in San Diego, CA

According to statistics released by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), alcohol-impaired driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in the U.S. Each year, approximately half a million people are injured in crashes where police report that alcohol was present. In 2007, nearly 13,000 people were killed in drunk driving related crashes.

The cost for each injured survivor of an alcohol-related crash averages $67,000, including $6,000 in health care costs and $13,000 in lost productivity. After a drunk driving accident, it is not uncommon for victims to sustain serious injuries such as paralysis, permanent brain damage, missing limbs, multiple fractures and burn scars.

Victims of drunk driving accidents often need multiple surgeries, physical therapy and other medical care. Often these victims are unable to work for a long duration of time or have to make complete career changes as a result of their injuries. Compensation for victims can include medical bills, auto repairs, lost income, pain and suffering, wrongful death or permanent disability.

Victims' Rights

After being injured in a DUI-related crash or losing a loved one, the primary concern in a victim's mind is receiving restitution. In California, criminal courts are required to impose a payment of restitution by the defendant to the victim.

After a DUI accident, a defendant's car insurance will cover the damages prescribed by the court. Most policies do not exclude coverage for DUI, so most insurance companies will cover an at-fault driver's damages under a driver's comprehensive coverage policy. Liability coverage pays for the damage and injuries a motorist causes others, up to the liability limits on the policy.

If a defendant does not have car insurance, he/she will be ordered to make payments directly to the victim. If a defendant cannot pay, California has a separate fund to reimburse DUI victims for economic damages.

According to the California Constitution Article I, §28(b), "Victims who suffer losses as a result of criminal activity have the right to restitution for damages resulting from that crime." The "Victims' Bill of Rights" says that victims have the right to be:

  • Treated with fairness and respect
  • Have their safety considered when fixing bail
  • Do not have to have their confidential information or records disclosed to the defendant
  • Should receive notice of all public proceedings at which the defendant is entitled to be present
  • Should be heard at any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue
  • Should receive a speedy trial and a prompt conclusion to their case
  • Should have their property returned to them promptly, after it is no longer needed

What are losses?

The prosecutor will look over bills, invoices and other documentary evidence to establish a total amount of restitution to be paid by the defendant in order to reimburse the victim. Restitution is based on the out-of-pocket losses sustained by a victim. California law makes it clear that victims are entitled to "the full amount for any reasonable losses or expenses."

Losses could include damaged property (a victim's car, for example), medical and therapy bills, lost wages, damage to a property (if a DUI offender crashed into an individual's house or bar for example), and attorney's fees.

A DUI victim should see a physician immediately after an accident to receive medical treatment and a thorough inventory of their injuries. If a victim doesn't know the exact amount of his/her losses or if a defendant wishes to contest the requested amount, a restitution hearing can be set up.

How Restitution Works

Restitution orders and fines are different. Victim restitution involves the money that a defendant pays directly to a victim, whereas a restitution fine is the amount a defendant pays to California's Restitution Fund which supports the California Victims Compensation Fund.

Even if a victim is reimbursed by an insurance payment, he/she is still entitled to full restitution from the defendant. If a defendant enters into a plea bargain, any charge related to the victim's loss is dismissed. Nonetheless, a defendant might still be required to pay restitution if he/she signed a Harvey Waiver beforehand (this waiver entitles a victim to restitution on any dismissed count connected with a case).

Following a DUI collision, insurance companies act quickly to offer settlements to victims to avoid having to go further with the case. Often victims view these settlements as too low, however, and attempt to fight for more compensation.

Victims can often recover monetary expenses through restitution and damages in a civil lawsuit against the driver as well. DUI victims can receive both compensatory awards (to cover losses) and punitive damages (these are paid by a defendant as well and are meant to punish the DUI offender and keep him/her from committing the same offense in the future).

When will the defendant have to pay restitution?

In order for a victim to receive compensation, it must be proven that the driver in question was drunk at the time of the accident. Questions that a victim should be able to answer include: did you notice the defendant driving erratically prior to the accident? How do you know the driver was drunk? Was the driver formally charged with DUI?

If you were charged with DUI and injured someone in a crash, you should seek the legal help of Attorney Mark R. De Yoe immediately! If you are convicted of driving while intoxicated, having to pay damages to any victim involved in your DUI crash is just the beginning of your worries.

After your insurance has paid for the damages you caused another party, your insurance provider will either cancel your policy or severely increase your premiums if it continues to provide you with coverage. In order to protect your rights and receive the knowledgeable counsel you need to make the right decisions during this time, contact Attorney Mark R. De Yoe, APLC today to schedule your free consultation!