Law School Case Brief
People v. Hamilton - 114 Cal. App. 4th 932, 8 Cal. Rptr. 3d 190 (2003)
In tort law, if an injured party receives compensation for injuries from a source independent of the tortfeasor, the amount of such compensation is not offset against the damage obligation of the tortfeasor. The collateral source doctrine is firmly established as the California rule. There is no reason why that same principle of tort law should not apply to restitution for crime victims.
Defendant Eric Duane Hamilton shot and seriously injured Donald Hill while Hill performed work for Hamilton and Hamilton's mother, Lena Hamilton (Ms. Hamilton). Pursuant to a plea agreement, Hamilton pleaded no contest in California trial court to assault with a firearm in violation of § 245, subdivision (a)(2). On Nov. 4, 1996, the trial court sentenced Hamilton to eight years in prison, but suspended the sentence and placed him on probation for five years. The trial court imposed as a condition of Hamilton's probation the payment of $ 15,000 in victim restitution. Sometime in early 1998, Hill sued Hamilton and Ms. Hamilton in a civil action for Hill's injuries. Ms. Hamilton's insurer paid Hill between $ 25,000 and $ 30,000 to settle the claim on her behalf and obtained Hill's release of claims and dismissal with prejudice of the lawsuit against Ms. Hamilton and Hamilton. Hamilton made no restitution payments to Hill or to Hill's successor, his mother, Tina Wright (Ms. Wright). The People later sought to revoke Hamilton’s probation for failure to pay Hill's restitution obligation. At the April 10, 2003 probation revocation hearing, Ms. Wright testified concerning the cost of Hill's medical care and the settlement with Ms. Hamilton's insurer. Ms. Wright said that although her health insurance and the settlement with Ms. Hamilton's insurer covered some of Hill's medical expenses, Ms. Wright incurred expenses that were not reimbursed. Ms. Wright also testified that she could not reconstruct her expenses with certainty because she had lost much of the necessary documentation. The trial court concluded by advising Ms. Wright that, if she did not provide an accounting of her "out of pocket" expenses, the court would consider Hamilton’s restitution obligation satisfied. Ms. Wright was not able to provide an accounting of the said expenses, and so, the trial court reinstated Hamilton's probation, under the same terms and conditions existing before. Thereafter, the People appealed, asserting that the trial court erred in offsetting any payments made by Ms. Wright's and Ms. Hamilton's insurers against Hamilton's restitution obligation.
Did the trial court err in offsetting any payments made by Ms. Wright's and Ms. Hamilton's insurers against Hamilton's restitution obligation?
The appellate court held that the trial court erred in offsetting, against Hamilton’s restitution obligation, payments made by the insurer for Hill's medical expenses. According to the court, the determination of restitution required the offender to pay an amount that was sufficient to fully reimburse a victim for economic loss incurred as a result of defendant's criminal conduct regardless of that victim's reimbursement from other sources. In the case at bar, because the settlement paid by Ms. Hamilton's insurer was made on her behalf, and not directly on behalf of Hamilton, it could not be offset against the Hamilton's victim restitution obligation.
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