Recent First District Court of Appeal Decision Discusses Drunk Driving Restitution and Double Recovery
October 13, 2021 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, Drunk Driving/DUI Social Share
On October 6, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal decided the case of Wilson v. Florida. This case went on appeal arising out of the Circuit Court for Alachua County. Samuel Brian Wilson, the Appellant, challenged an order awarding restitution to the victim of the drunk driving accident he had caused. The Appellant argued that the restitution results in “an impermissible double recovery because the victim’s civil settlement should have been set off against the amount of restitution.”
The Appellant drove his car onto a Mexican restaurant’s dining patio in Gainesville, Florida, around lunchtime. This crash resulted in severe injury to one of the individuals eating there. The Appellant was arrested at the scene and then pled no contest to a fourth or subsequent offense of driving under the influence and refusal to submit to lawful testing. The Appellant was sentenced at trial, but the court reserved jurisdiction to determine restitution at a later restitution hearing.
Civilly, the Appellant’s insurer tendered its bodily injury policy limit of $100,000 to the victim. Then, the victim settled her medical expenses with her health insurance provided for over $8,000.
At the restitution hearing, the State, the Appellee, sought over $8,000 as out-of-pocket medical expenses in conjunction with another undisputed cost of over $800. The Appellant and Appellee argued over whether the civil settlement that was given to the victim already covered the disputed expenses. However, the court ended up ordering the Appellant to pay the full amount, concluding that the victim’s civil settlement did not cover her medical expenses. The Appellant then appealed to the First District Court of Appeal.
The First District reviewed the issue of whether the restitution order constituted an abuse of discretion by the trial court.
First, the First District cited Tolbert v. State, a case that lays down the standard that a trial court’s discretion is limited by precedent, statutes, and rules, and this discretion is abused when the trial court issues a ruling based on an erroneous view of the law.
As far as restitution goes, the prevailing statute is Section 775.089(7) of the Florida Statutes, which states that the State bears the burden of proving the amount of restitution by the preponderance of the evidence. Additionally, when a crime results in injury to the victim, a restitution order will require the defendant to pay the cost of medical treatment, physical therapy, lost income, and rehabilitation, pursuant to Section 775.089(2)(a), Florida Statutes. While restitution does not prevent civil recovery down the road, the “amount of such restitution shall be set off against any subsequent independent civil recovery.” The purpose of the restitution statute is to prevent the victim from forcing the defendant to pay twice.
A double recovery occurs when the restitution award and civil award overlap. The First District cited Peterson, where the defendant faced dual liability for fraud offenses, and the court ordered restitution. After, the civil court deducted the restitution award the defendant had already paid and then entered a judgment for the remaining balance. The case went on appeal, and the court reversed since nothing in the record showed that the civil damages were different from the restitution damages.
A double recovery does not occur when a victim’s civil insurance settlement is exceeded by their out-of-pocket expenses. The First District cited Kirby, where a defendant faced dual liability for a car crash offense. After the civil claim was settled and the defendant’s insurance company paid out the policy limit to the victim, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that restitution would not be a double recovery since the victim’s out-of-pocket expenses were greater than the insurance policy limits.
The First District concluded that the restitution order seen in the Appellant’s case does constitute an impermissible double recovery. The court likened the instant case to Peterson since nothing in the record distinguished the restitution from the civil damages. The Appellee attempted to claim that the civil damages addressed the victim’s pain and suffering, but not her out-of-pocket expenses. However, the court found that the settlement offer and release statement did not support this claim since the documents did not expressly limit the settlement to pain and suffering. The court actually found the opposite, concluding that “the language in the release encompasses ‘all injuries and damages, known and unknown,’ and clarifies the victim ‘is responsible for satisfaction of any and all claims, costs, obligations, and liens of any kind, arising out of the accident.’”
The court emphasized that they remain mindful that release statements usually contain broad language, and that courts have to set off for the damages already recovered, so the civil award and restitution award may overlap occasionally. The court recognized that this could lead to situations wherein a civil settlement fails to cover the totality of the victim’s damages, even if the award amounts cover the victim’s out-of-pocket expenses. The Appellee attempted to argue this point. But the court found they relied on “conclusory assertions in the victim’s settlement demand letter and offered no other evidence of the victim’s actual total damages.”
In sum, the restitution statute is intended to prevent impermissible double recoveries in these types of cases. Here, the court found that the Appellee, the State, failed to carry its burden to prove the restitution amount. Since the trial court erred by failing to set off the civil settlement against the restitution order under Section 775.089(8) of the Florida Statutes, the First District reversed the restitution order and remanded for the entry of a new restitution order for the undisputed amount.
Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney
This case exemplifies the sticky situations criminal defendants can find themselves in when dual liability comes into play. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime that resulted in bodily injury to another individual, retain a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure you are not forced to pay more than your fair share. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against criminal charges, including those that result in bodily injuries, like driving under the influence. You can rest assured that Pumphrey Law’s team will protect your rights and interests. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.
This article is written by Gabi D’Esposito