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Name: People v. Nichols
Case #: C069555
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 02/09/2017
Summary

The doctrine of comparative negligence does not apply to restitution awarded to the parents of the direct crime victim as reimbursement for their economic losses. Nichols was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (a)) and received a state prison sentence. On appeal, she challenged the award of restitution to the parents of the motorist she killed. Nichols argued the trial court erred in declining to apply the doctrine of comparative negligence to reduce the amount of the award. Held: Affirmed. Victim restitution is mandatory (Cal. Const., art. I, § 28, subd. (b)). The parents of the direct crime victim are separate victims of the offense (Cal. Const., art. I, § 28, subd. (e); Pen. Code, § 1202.4, subd. (k)(3)(A)). Here, the trial court awarded restitution to the parents of the deceased direct victim of appellant’s crime for their travel expenses and lost wages to attend appellant’s trial. This was appropriate. A victim’s right to restitution must be broadly and liberally construed. A victim is entitled to an amount of restitution that will make them whole but not more than their actual losses arising from the defendant’s criminal conduct. Thus, in People v. Millard (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 7, the court found that if principles of comparative negligence were not applied, a criminally negligent defendant could be required to reimburse a victim for economic losses in excess of the defendant’s proportionate fault. But here, unlike the Millard case, the people seeking restitution for their own personal economic losses are the direct crime victim’s parents. They were not themselves negligent and do not step into the shoes of the direct crime victim for purposes of comparative negligence. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering defendant to pay the deceased’s parents for their economic losses associated with attending the criminal proceedings.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/C069555.PDF