19 Oct 2023
Last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the state of Arizona cannot limit the amount of money at-fault drivers have to pay to accident victims or their surviving family members.
Tucson.com reports that the panel of judges overturned the 2006 law that required those who were convicted of a traffic offense in which someone was either injured or killed to pay restitution, but limited the maximum amount that could be levied to just $10,000. In 2018, that amount was raised and capped to $100,000.
Judge Lawrence Winthrop, who was one of three judges on the Court of Appeals panel said in his opinion that the law goes against the Victim’s Bill of Rights which was added as an Arizona Constitutional Amendment in 1990 and that any limit on the dollar amount that would be set would be considered unconstitutional.
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This latest decision comes after a case in which an at-fault driver, Vivek Patel, was convicted of failing to yield when making a left turn. The crash that Patel caused resulted in the serious injury of another person. The decision in the Patel case triggered two additional laws; one which makes it a criminal offense for breaking the traffic law that caused the accident, and a Victim’s Bill of Rights case.
In the latter case, the Phoenix City Prosecutor sought damages of more than $61,000, which the municipal court judge awarded to the victim, who was not identified. That decision was later overturned by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr, who imposed the $10,000 cap on the monies awarded to the victim based on the wording on the Victim’s Rights Law which said that victims were entitled to “prompt” compensation in damages rather than “full compensation.”
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Judge Winthrop disagreed with Judge Starr’s previous ruling, said that while the word “restitution” is not defined in the Constitutional law, the definition of compensation in the dictionary does define the word as restoring the victim to a state that they were in prior to the event.
Judge Winthrop concluded in his remarks that when considering the amount of compensation sought by and awarded to victims should take into consideration the crime as well as the economic hardship that the event caused in the victim’s life.