Restitution is a penalty a judge can order a defendant to pay in a criminal case for hurting a victim when committing a crime. Restitution is not the same as compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.
Civil Cases vs. Criminal Cases
There are two types of cases in America — civil cases and criminal cases.
In a civil case, people or companies sue each other, trying to get an award of money or other civil damages.
In a criminal case, the government brings charges against someone (a defendant) for an alleged violation of a criminal law. If the judge finds the defendant guilty, the judge can impose a monetary fine and/or incarceration on the defendant. The judge can also order that the defendant pay money (restitution) to the crime victim, the victim’s family, or the state victim’s compensation fund.
How Restitution Works in Different Cases
Judges tailor restitution orders to the facts of each case. Traditionally, judges tend to order restitution when the defendant behaved outrageously, willfully, or with reckless disregard for the safety of others. For example:
- If a jury finds the defendant guilty of his fourth DUI, in which he demolished a food truck and caused severe burns to the victim when a fuel tank on the food truck exploded, the judge might order the defendant to do jail time and pay restitution to the victim for his medical bills and the loss of the food truck.
- The court could order convicted defendants to pay the funeral bills of a hate crime victim as restitution.
- If a jilted romantic partner keyed the ex’s car and busted the headlights with a baseball bat, the restitution could be paying for the repairs to the vehicle.
- A person convicted of defrauding seniors out of their life savings could have to pay restitution to restore some or all of their money to them.
Criminal defendants who plea bargain to a lesser included offense may also have to pay restitution. The judge has to order restitution if the victim is eligible for crime victim’s compensation fund benefits. The victim or the state can enforce court-ordered restitution just as they would a civil judgment.
When Victims Do Not Receive the Restitution Money
Sometimes, even when a judge in a criminal case orders the defendant to pay restitution, the money (or a portion of the money) does not go directly to the victim of the crime. This result can happen when:
- Someone else paid the victim’s bills, such as the victim’s health insurance paid the victim’s medical bills.
- The state’s victim compensation fund collects all restitution payments and distributes them to many victims across the state.
- The victim received compensation through a personal injury claim. To receive full compensation for one’s damages in a personal injury claim and get restitution would be “double dipping.” For example, if the victim of a car accident reached a settlement with the defendant’s auto insurance company and the amount paid the victim’s damages in full, the victim cannot get paid twice for the same damages.
How Restitution Works in Washington State
Usually, the court must order the restitution at the sentencing hearing or within 180 days of that hearing. The judge determines how much the offender has to pay every month in restitution toward the total amount ordered. The offender must accept employment offers while incarcerated to earn funds to make the monthly payments.
What Restitution Can and Cannot Cover
In Washington State, the court can calculate restitution using the damages for:
- Injury to or loss of property
- Medical bills for treatment of injuries
- Lost wages from the injury
- Counseling reasonably related to the crime
The court cannot include these items when determining the amount of restitution:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Other intangible losses
The limit of restitution is two times the amount of what the offender gained or the victim lost from the crime.
Restitution Does Not Prevent Civil Liability Claims
You should not wait to see if the criminal court will order the defendant to pay restitution if your injury resulted from a criminal act.
Under Washington law, there is a time limit on pursuing civil action. The deadline (statute of limitations) could expire on your civil personal injury case before the criminal case is final. If you wait too long, the law will bar you from ever filing a lawsuit to collect damages for your injuries.
At Max Meyers Law, we help you make sense of what happens when you get hurt when someone else committed a crime. We will not charge you any legal fees to evaluate your case and explain your legal rights.Please call us today at 425-399-7000, and we will line up your free case evaluation.