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What Is Restitution?

Restitution seeks to compensate people who have been injured or suffered loss because of another person's conduct.  Restitution will be awarded only for out-of-pocket expenses caused by the offender's conduct.  Restitution will only be granted if the amount can be calculated with certainty (based on evidence).    

What Are Common Examples of Restitution in Civil Cases? 

Restitution can be awarded in many types of civil cases.  Some common examples include:  

  • Personal Injury: For example, a victim who sues for damages for an assault can get restitution for medical expenses and loss of wages, but not for emotional distress. Emotional distress may be caused by the offender, but it is not an out-of-pocket expense.      
  • Contract: For example, two parties make a contract and then one party breaches the contract.  Both parties can recover restitution for any out-of-pocket expenses they incurred in preparing to perform the contract.  In contracts, parties can also recover if one party benefits from a breach of contract. The stipulation for loss can be optional in those situations.  For example, suppose that Bob and Jane agree that Bob will wash Jane’s car in exchange for Jane driving Bob to work for a month. Assume that Jane drives Bob to work for a month, but Bob refuses to wash the car. In this situation, Jane has not suffered a loss. However, Jane can still collect restitution because Bob wrongfully benefited from his breach of contract.
  • Benefits Received: In some instances if a party has conferred a benefit onto another party, the party giving the benefit can be awarded restitution.  For example, if you injure yourself in the act of pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming car; your medical expenses can be reimbursed if you sue that person for restitution. 
  • Violation of any civil laws that cause injury to others.

Can I Get Restitution If a Crime Is Committed Against Me?

Although criminal law is typically understood as offenses against society as a whole, many states have created laws that allow victims to obtain restitution from the criminals who have wronged them. Laws regarding restitution will differ by state, but it typically requires a conviction and an application to the appropriate party. The appropriate party is typically the court, but the prosecuting attorney or the probate department may be the correct party to contact in some states and/or jurisdictions.

States allow victims to sue criminal defendants in civil law, but using the civil law to sue is less effective because suing using civil law procedure takes longer and requires that the defendant be represented by an attorney before any judgment can be given. In states that allow criminal restitution for crime victims, victims can use the existing conviction to ask for just compensation. 

How Do I Get Civil Restitution?

If you are seeking restitution, you need to include this claim in your initial complaint.  If you are forced to pay civil restitution, it may be unjustified.  In either case, please talk to an experienced attorney to learn more about restitution issues.  An experienced attorney will give you the best probability of getting restitution (or avoiding it!).    

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 04-04-2013 12:24 PM PDT

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