Like other states, Washington allows criminal courts to order defendants to compensate the victims of their crimes. The court can require the defendant to pay restitution for damages the defendant caused.
A victim or the family may be able to recover some of their financial losses by working with prosecuting attorneys in order to secure a restitution order. However, restitution orders have their limits.
Restitution is not going to pay for all of a victim’s losses
Washington’s restitution laws are not a substitute for a civil lawsuit. In most cases, the courts will only examine damages that are relatively easy to determine.
For example, if a victim has a medical bill for care related to an assault, the defendant may be ordered to pay that particular medical bill, but not future ones.
Furthermore, restitution is not available for a victim’s non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
Defendants frequently cannot pay their restitution
While the law gives courts some mechanisms by which to collect restitution, defendants often do not have the property, income or job prospects to pay. As a result, victims may receive only a fraction of what the defendant owes.
In these situations, a victim may seek to determine if anyone else may be in part responsible for the crime. For example, an assault facilitated by a lack of lighting or lack of security may implicate a business that failed to implement such measures. Sometimes investigation will determine that another person or business is legally liable to pay compensation to the victim in a civil suit. In such circumstances, compensation can include a victim’s non-economic losses.