Restitution is a legal concept designed to compensate a person’s financial loss due to another’s behavior. Judges can order restitution in civil liability cases and in criminal cases when the victim is able to prove that their loss is directly caused by the defendant’s conduct.

Restitution includes lost wages, medical bills, property repair and replacement and possibly any other expense caused by the defendant.

What Kinds of Civil Cases Receive Restitution?

In civil liability cases, restitution can be awarded in the following examples:

  • Personal Injury: as a result of someone’s conduct you were physically injured or incurred out of pocket expenses. Examples of personal injury include car accidents, assault and battery, negligence in the workplace, medical malpractice, etc.
  • Breach of Contract: if you incurred out of pocket expenses as a result of the other party’s breach of contract you may be entitled to restitution. Expenses could have been incurred as a result of preparing for the contract or in anticipation of the contract and then the other party failed to go through with the contract. Expenses can also be incurred when the other party fails to perform the contract. 
    • For example, a home contractor that takes your money to renovate your home and then fails to perform or damages the renovation is a breach. Any out of pocket expenses incurred to fix the damage or to complete the job may be a form of restitution.
  • Conferring a Benefit: if you aid someone in distress and in the process you incur a loss, you may be entitled to restitution. For example, if you jump into a lake to save a person from drowning and incur an injury, the person saved may have to reimburse your expenses.
  • Any violation of civil law that causes a person to incur an out of pocket expense may be repaid in the form of restitution during a civil lawsuit.

If I am a Victim of a Crime, Can I Receive Restitution?

Yes. Judges frequently order defendants convicted of a crime to pay restitution. However, if the defendant is found not guilty or the state selects not to prosecute a case, you may not be able to receive an order for restitution. Criminal restitution requires that the crime the defendant is convicted of be directly related to the out of pocket expense.

For example, if a defendant is accused of assaulting the victim and stealing from them but is only convicted of the assault, it may be difficult for the victim to recover for the loss of the theft when requesting restitution. However, many states provide a victim compensation fund in situations where the defendant is unable to pay the restitution or the state is unable to obtain a restitution order.

What Do I Need to Prove or Demonstrate to Receive a Restitution Order?

While the requirements may vary from state to state, depending on the law and type of issue, these are the general requirements to successful receive a restitution order.

  1. In both civil and criminal cases, the defendant must be found liable or guilty before restitution will be ordered. The exception to this requirement is if the defendant and plaintiff or state reach an agreement for the defendant to reimburse the person instead of pursuing the case.
  2. Once the defendant is found liable or guilty of the violation then the plaintiff or victim needs to prove the specific value lost; guesses of value lost are not sufficient. This value must also be proven to a certainty; not just the victim’s or plaintiff’s belief in the property’s or service’s value. 
    1. Sometimes it is required to use an expert witness to demonstrate the loss. For example, if a defendant’s conduct caused a small business owner to lose business, then it may be required to have a professional evaluator or economist evaluate the case to determine the actual dollar amount lost to the plaintiff.
  3. The restitution requested must reflect out of pocket expenses only. If you could not work as a result of an injury sustained by the defendant’s actions you may compensated for that lost income. 
    1. However, if your employer allowed you to use sick or vacation leave and you continued to receive pay while you were absent on injury, it is unlikely you will get restitution for using that sick or vacation leave. 
    2. Likewise, if you have medical insurance and your insurance covered your medical bills for your injury, then the defendant will not likely be responsible for reimbursing you for the medical bills the insurance company paid on your behalf.
  4. You must show sufficient and accurate documentation of your expenses. If your case involves an injury or property damage, it is important to bring all receipts and bills to court to prove your out of pocket expenses. 
    1. Additionally, you need to include the amount you are seeking in compensation when you file a civil lawsuit and you need to inform the state prosecutor of such expenses as early as possible. Documentation includes receipts for replacement property or to make repairs. 
    2. If you are unable to pay for any replacement property or the cost of repair for property damage, get a professional estimate from a reputable service and bring the official estimate to court. If you have medical bills that you cannot pay, you should bring the bills you received from all providers to court.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Assist with My Restitution Claim?

If you need restitution, a local civil attorney can guide you in what expenses are covered and how to file for restitution timely and correctly. If you are accused of conduct that may lead to a restitution order, a defense attorney can explain your rights and defend you.