Appeals Court Removes $100K Cap For Car Crash Victims Seeking Restitution

By Bridget Dowd, Holliday Moore, Associated Press
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 10:41am
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2019 - 10:49am
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An Arizona court has overturned as unconstitutional a state law setting a $10,000 cap on criminal restitution for certain driving offenses.

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday said the law applying to criminal offenses for moving violations causing serious physical injury or death violates the Victims' Bill of Rights in the Arizona Constitution.

The ruling reverses a Maricopa County Superior Court judge's ruling that reduced a man's restitution order at $10,000, down from the over $61,000 amount set by a Phoenix Municipal Court judge.

The ruling says Arizona law generally requires a person convicted of a crime to pay the victim the full amount of the victim's economic loss but that the law enacted in 2006 on restitution for cases involving certain criminal moving violations included the $10,000 cap.

Last year, state lawmakers increased that amount to $100,000, but the court unanimously ruled that the cap, no matter how high, is unconstitutional.

Arizona lawmakers cannot place a limit on the amount drivers must pay to their victims if they caused a serious or deadly crash.

The case involves Vivek Patel, who was convicted of failing to yield when turning left, and causing a crash that seriously injured another individual.

In 2006, the Phoenix city prosecutor sought restitution of $61,192 on behalf of that victim, which the municipal judge awarded.

That decision, however, was overturned by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr who said that compensation is limited by the $10,000 cap which was in effect at the time of the accident. She accepted Patel's argument that the language simply ensures "prompt'' compensation and argued that if voters had intended to require "full'' restitution to victims, they would have said so.

Judge Lawrence Winthrop, writing for the three-judge panel, pointed to dictionaries defining restitution as, "restoring someone to a position he (or she) occupied before a particular event.''

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