Restitution in DUI Cases
In any DUI case involving a traffic collision, the criminal court has jurisdiction to order that the defendant pay restitution to the victim. The idea is that the victim is entitled to any restitution for economic losses incurred as a result of the criminal actions of the defendant, including damage to property, medical expenses and lost wages.
If the defendant is insured, the insurance company generally pays for the victim's losses and the issue of restitution is taken care of as far as the criminal case is concerned. However, even if the defendant is insured, the victim may have losses not covered by the defendant's insurance. He is then entitled to a claim against the defendant.
Criminal court judges have very broad discretion to order restitution and are not bound by civil court rules. Sometimes, victims will try to claim compensation for losses that they would not be entitled to in a civil court. I have one such case that is due for hearing in Long Beach court on Friday. The facts are as follows:
My client hit a parked vehicle. My client was insured and his insurance company paid for the damage to the victim's vehicle. My client's insurance company also paid for a rental vehicle for the victim while his car was being repaired. While the victim was driving the rental vehicle, he was involved in another traffic collision that was the fault of an uninsured driver.
The victim received a claim from the rental car company for over $3,000 for repairs to the rental car. Unfortunately, the victim did not have insurance to drive the rental car. The victim now wants my client to pay for this loss and the judge in Long Beach court is actually considering it - much to my amazement and the shock of my client.
There is very little case law on point and the usual civil rules about causation, intervening causes and the duty of the victim to mitigate his own loss do not technically apply. However, my argument is that the defendant cannot be held responsible for losses caused in an accident that he was not involved in and that to hold otherwise would be grossly unfair.
My client had no control over the victim's failure to obtain insurance to drive the rental vehicle and this failure coupled with the fact that another uninsured motorist caused the accident leading to the victim's additional losses are important intervening causes that break the chain of causation from the original traffic accident involving the defendant.
I know that the Judge is leaning towards protecting the victim and I am concerned that he will feel pressure to order restitution as my client does not garner much sympathy. However, unusually, the Prosecutor is staying out of it, and is not "prosecuting" the claim for the victim. In fact, she told him he was not entitled to payment of restitution.
I am back in court for further argument on Friday, so we shall see.
If you have been involved in a DUI related traffic accident and you have concerns over your liability to pay restitution, please call Los Angeles DUI Attorneys Gold and Witham for a free case evaluation.