Criminal Court Restitution: An Additional Remedy for Civil Cases

Janssen Malloy LLP routinely handles personal injury cases that arise out of a criminal context, e.g., damages or wrongful death caused by a drunk driver (a violation of Penal Code section 23153).  Parallel to and alongside the civil personal injury action for damages, if the responsible defendant is convicted of (or pleads guilty to) felony charges, the defendant may be responsible for the attorneys’ fees incurred by the plaintiff in recovering damages (pursuant to Penal Code section 1202.4, et seq.).  A recent wrongful death case handled by Janssen Malloy LLP partner Michael Crowley serves to illustrate the additional remedy provided to the plaintiffs in the form of a criminal court restitution order.  In our case example, the mother of three young children was killed in a motor vehicle incident in which the mother was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a driver who turned out to be intoxicated.  The defendant was prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter (Vehicle Code section 192.5), and eventually pled guilty to that felony offense.  Mr. Crowley presented evidence to the criminal court judge of the economic loss to the minor children, in the form of the lost income and support the decedent mother would have provided, and the court made a restitution order in the amount of $330,000.  The defendant had a limited auto liability coverage, so the restitution order in the criminal matter proved crucial in the effort to obtain compensation and justice for the children.

This case shows the challenges involved in guiding the case through both the criminal and civil justice system.  Mr. Crowley retained an economist to analyze the economic loss issues and prepared expert testimony that demonstrated that loss to the criminal court, in order to obtain the restitution order as part of the sentencing of the defendant.  That restitution order has the same force as a civil judgment, and required that the defendant’s payments under the order go to the minor children.  In the civil action filed against the defendant, the insurance carrier paid the policy limits under the defendant’s coverage, and the civil court approved the settlement as in the best interests of the minor children.  The criminal action was in a different county than the civil action, so the case required court appearances and hearings in different jurisdictions.  The provisions in Penal Code section 1202.4 regarding the recoverability of attorneys’ fees from the defendant provide another arrow in the quiver of experienced trial counsel in obtaining justice.

Janssen Malloy LLP’s attorneys have the experience and tenacity to pursue defendants who need to be held accountable for their reckless and criminal actions, and stand ready to assist your family if need arises.