A Victim of a Criminal Act’s Failure to Make an Insurance Claim Does Not Limit Her Right to Recover in Restitution

Posted on: December 13th, 2016

The Iowa Supreme Court considered whether a criminal defendant’s obligation to pay restitution was discharged or otherwise diminished where the victim of the defendant’s crime did not make an insurance claim relative to his stolen property.

The underlying facts were these.  Robert Dubois was charged with and pleaded guilty to third degree burglary after items including jewelry and stereo equipment were stolen from his ex-wife’s house. Dubois was given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,950. Dubois objected to the restitution amount and a hearing was set on the matter. Lisa Dubois had an insurance policy with a $1,000 deductible, but stated that she had not filed a claim for the stolen items. The district court ordered Robert Dubois pay $2,001 in restitution. Robert Dubois appealed claiming the district court should have limited the restitution award to reflect only the losses not covered by insurance.

The crux of the argument on appeal centered on the interpretation of Iowa Code section 910.3, involving the relationship between restitution in a criminal case and the availability of insurance to cover the loss.  Under Iowa’s restitution statute Iowa Code Chapter 910, “restitution” means payments of pecuniary damages to a victim in an amount and in the manner provided by the offender’s restitution plan.  Pecuniary damages, in this context, means all damages to the extent not paid by an insurer, which a victim could recover against the offender in a civil action out of the same facts or events.

Dubois’s argument on appeal was that the statutory language, “not paid by an insurer” references amounts that the victim’s insurance policy does not or would not cover.  The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed and determined that the intent of the legislature was to not limit restitution to “amounts not covered” by insurance.  The Court reasoned that Dubois’s interpretation would run counter to the clear meaning and intent set down by the legislature. Based on the Iowa Supreme Court’s interpretation of the restitution statute, Lisa Dubois was entitled to full restitution for pecuniary damages not paid by her insurer.

State of Iowa vs. Robert Lionel Dubois, No. 15-1758 (December 9, 2016)

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