Johnson v. Colorado – Restitution From Criminal Case May Not Cover All Your Personal Injury Damages

For victims of a crime, such as drunk driving or a violent assault, it’s not uncommon for there to be two cases moving simultaneously through the court system: The criminal and the civil. Criminal cases are pursued by state or federal prosecutors while civil complaints are pursued by the victims who have been harmed. The goal of the criminal case is to penalize the wrongdoer, while the purpose of the civil case is to make whole (to whatever extent possible) the person wronged. gavel7

It is not unheard of for judges in criminal court to order restitution to the victim, who may or may not have a pending civil case. However, that restitution is unlikely to cover the full cost of damages. Victims may be lucky if they get even a fraction of their losses covered – and that’s assuming the defendant even pays. Although criminal restitution isn’t dischargeable in a bankruptcy, it’s not uncommon for victims to walk away without ever seeing a dime of that money. On the other hand, civil lawsuit damages take into consideration not just medical bills, but lost wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. Further, they are usually paid by insurance companies and other third parties, which increases the chances of the victim actually receiving the money owed.

This is why it’s imperative to discuss your case with an experienced Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer – even if the prosecutor pursuing action against the person who harmed you promises to also ask for restitution. 

The recent case of Johnson v. Colorado, the Colorado Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of distributing restitution in the case of a woman who suffered injuries suffered in a car accident. It involved the payment of medical bills directly to the victim, who in turn reportedly failed to pay the health care providers.

According to court records, the at-fault driver in this case was convicted of careless driving no injury. As a result of that conviction, the criminal court ordered him to pay $23,400 in restitution for the financial losses suffered by (among others) a woman whose vehicle he struck, as well as to the woman’s seven medical providers. Initially, those restitution payments were made directly to the woman. She was obliged in turn to pay her medical providers.

However, after prosecutors became aware that the medical providers hadn’t been paid, prosecutors moved to alter the restitution payee, requiring those restitution payments be made directly tot he providers.

The careless driver then filed a motion for reconsideration. He argued that prosecutors’ request to change the payee was in effect a new restitution request and further, wasn’t timely. The county rejected this argument  and the district court affirmed. The state supreme court granted review, and ultimately affirmed.

The court noted the car accident had seriously injured the victim, and the restitution included:

  • $4,300 for 8 weeks of lost wages;
  • $850 rental car;
  • $48,400 in medical expenses not covered by any insurance due to policy limits;

There had been a $25,000 settlement from defendant’s auto insurance company. Prosecutors then sought to obtain $23,400 in restitution for victim.

A few years later, it was learned that despite receiving $25,000 from the auto insurer and $3,200 in restitution toward the remaining $23,400, the injured woman hadn’t made any further payments to her medical providers. As it turned out, she had filed for bankruptcy protection, which in turn discharged her obligation to pay those debts. Prosecutors therefore requested that all future restitution payments be made directly to the medical providers. Prosecutors reduced the total by the amount that had already been paid.

As prosecutors noted, they weren’t increasing, decreasing or adding any new recipients of the money. Rather, they were simply changing the payee. This, the courts ruled, did not amount to a new order of restitution.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Johnson v. Colorado, Sept. 12, 2016, Colorado Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

$20 Million Verdict Against Truck Company for Traumatic Brain Injury, Sept. 14, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyer Blog