Many DUI’s involve accidents. If your alleged DUI caused injury, property damage or other losses, you may be forced to pay to compensate the victim(s). Under California law, DUI victims can seek compensation or “restitution” through several different channels and you could face one or all of them. The damages in a DUI accident can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you need to defend yourself.
The three ways you may end up paying include:
- Paying a fine into a restitution fund, which helps compensate victims of all crimes in the state.
- Paying restitution as part of your criminal sentencing.
- Being sued for compensation in a civil lawsuit.
We’ll look at all three of these methods, how to defend against them, and how your insurance figures into the payments.
The California Victims Compensation Fund
If you are convicted of a DUI Causing Injury, or any other DUI charge that involves losses, you may have to pay into a state fund. You will be charged an amount of money on top of the official fine for your DUI charge. This extra payment will help support the California Victims Compensation Fund, which helps out victims of all crimes.
How to defend yourself: You should speak to a DUI lawyer as early as possible in the legal process. The victim fund is handled during the sentencing in your criminal case. That means that if you are not convicted of DUI, you cannot be forced to pay it. Similarly, if you are convicted only of a regular DUI, and not a DUI Causing Injury, you may not have to pay it. In this case, a strong defense against the DUI charge itself is the best way to protect yourself.
In California law “restitution” is used to mean money you are ordered to pay as part of your criminal sentence. No separate lawsuit is required. In this way it is similar to the victim fund, but you can be ordered to pay restitution directly to the victim. If you caused an injury or property damage, you will probably be ordered to pay both.
The amount of the restitution will include:
- Property damage (to a car, fence, business, etc.)
- Medical expenses for all injuries
- Therapy costs related to the accident, if any
- Lost wages because the injured person was unable to work
- The victims’ legal costs, if any
The bill can add up quickly. In California, the victim can ask for 100% of these costs. It is up to them whether to request restitution and to show how much is owed using bills, estimates, and other documentation. If the victim doesn’t yet know the total cost at the time of sentencing, a “restitution hearing” will be scheduled at a later date to sort it out.
If you are ordered to pay restitution, you will end up paying the full amount. If you can’t pay it at once, the court will establish a payment plan. If you don’t have a job they will order you to get one as part of probation. If you do have a job they may garnish your wages so the monthly payment comes out of your check before you even get paid.
How to defend yourself: Again, the best way to defend yourself against restitution payments is to fight your DUI charge itself. Any DUI that caused an accident or injury can become expensive quickly. Paying for a good DUI lawyer now could save you a lifetime of payments later.
Lawsuits by DUI Victims
Victims have another legal channel available to them: the civil courts. Civil courts are separate from criminal courts, and victims can sue you for the money they want no matter how your DUI case plays out. You can be sued even if you aren’t convicted of DUI.
When a victim chooses to go this route, the money is called “compensation” rather than restitution. But the amount the victim can seek is the same. They can even do both. Many victims seek restitution through the criminal process and then sue for compensation if they don’t get what they want. They cannot get “double” the amount this way—the total amount of the damages is still the maximum.
How to defend yourself: Lawsuits are different because they involve a whole separate legal process. You will want a lawyer who understands DUI injury law to defend you. However, there are steps you can take from the beginning to limit your liability:
- Do not enter a plea of “guilty” if you can help it. This will become evidence in the civil suit and make it harder for you to win.
- For the same reason, don’t admit your guilt or confess that you drove drunk or caused the accident.
- Although it can be uncomfortable, do not apologize unless your lawyer recommends it. It’s human instinct to say we’re sorry when we’re involve in any accident, but these words of kindness will be used against you.
Focus on defending yourself against your criminal DUI charge first, and secure the best outcome you can. Then deal with a civil lawsuit if and when it arises.
Insurance and DUI Restitution/Compensation
California law requires that all drivers carry insurance. That means that the great majority of DUI accidents involve at least one insured vehicle. Insurance does figure into compensation or restitution, but in different ways:
- If the victim’s insurance covers all or part of the damages, they can still seek the full amount from you—they effectively get more than they’re owed.
- If your insurance covers all or part of the damages, they can still seek the full amount from you, however, you can deduct the amount your insurance paid and just pay them the difference.
- If neither party is insured, you will owe the full amount out of pocket.
DUI fines are steep enough, but restitution demands are often astronomical. Many DUI defendants make a single bad move during their trial, and end up paying money every month for years—even decades. For some, it follows them the rest of their lives.
Don’t face a DUI without proper legal counsel. Let us match you with a highly experienced attorney who works exclusively on California DUI cases. We’ll get you a FREE consultation, so you can learn your legal options with no obligation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.