By Candace Lightner and Michael Siegel, ESQ
When my daughter Cari, was killed by a drunk driver in 1980, someone at the District Attorney’s (DA) office mentioned to me that there was a fund for crime victims. They suggested I apply for reimbursement of expenses. In our case, the driver was uninsured as a result of his numerous DUI’s and suing would have netted nothing. Plus I was more interested in the criminal justice case and how much time this “killer of children” and “destroyer of families” would get behind bars.
Although I don’t remember applying, I do remember getting a check in the mail for about $300 plus for “funeral” expenses. I had almost forgotten why they sent it but as a struggling single mother with two surviving children, I was grateful for even that small amount.
As the founder of MADD and now the founder of a new organization, We Save Lives.org, I often hear from victims and survivors of impaired driving crimes about the inequities of the justice system and how it favors the defendant. That is a fact. What is really surprising is how many victims of impaired driving crimes are unaware these funds exist. This is the job of the district or state attorney, the victim advocate and in some cases law enforcement. In California most DA’s have a unit called the Victim Witness office where the victim/survivor is referred. However, in many cases victims and survivors are so traumatized by the crime, that seeking compensation is not always uppermost in their minds. So what do these funds do and are you or your family members eligible?
According to Michael Siegel, a Loomis based attorney who has been representing California victims of crime for more than 30 years, “To be eligible, a claimant must have been the victim of a crime involving physical injury (or threat); and the losses must be verified as being related to that crime.” Impaired driving is a crime though it often is referred to as an accident. It is not, it is a crime, a horrible, devastating and violent crime. Because it is a crime, those who have been involved in an impaired driving crash are eligible.
Compensation Programs provide payment or reimbursement for certain crime-related losses, including:
They usually cover counseling for immediate family members of crime victims. They do not cover losses such as pain and suffering, property losses or punitive damages, which may be recovered through civil suits or restitution orders issued as part of a criminal case. Victim compensation only pays for those eligible “out of pocket” losses to the extent they are not covered by insurance, civil suits/settlements or other resources.
There are deadlines for filing claims (usually 1 to 3 years after the crime date or after the victim’s 18th birthday). Most programs give extra time to child victims, sometimes up to age 26 in some states. At least one state – California – allows the victim’s family members’ claims to be filed at any time, if the victim’s claim is accepted. Often there are legal ways around some deadlines, but it is best to get advice from an advocate from the relevant state.
Many states allow attorneys to represent claimants, but not all; many states provide for payment to the attorney in addition to the awards to the claimant, but some deduct the fee from the award.
For more information on your state and how to apply, go to the National Association of Crime Victims Program Compensation Boards website and click on Program Directory, then click the appropriate state. A wealth of information is available here, including addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for those states’ programs; links to application forms; and FAQs.
Let’s face it, there is no adequate compensation when someone is injured or killed in an impaired driving crash, or in any other crime. However, there are resources that can help alleviate some of the expenses associated with the crime. We just need to know about them.
Candace Lightner is the founder and President of WeSaveLives.org and the founder of MADD. She is also a crime victim survivor whose twin daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver in 1980. She can be reached at CLightner@wesavelives.org
Michael Siegel is a 1974 graduate of UCLA Law School. He has practiced law in California for more than 40 years, and since 1981, his focus has been on crime victim advocacy and victim compensation. He has represented more crime victims and their families before the California Victim Compensation Board than any other private attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; information on specific questions for other states could be directed to the contact numbers listed at the nacvcb website.)