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Part II - Estate's Personal Representative Is Only Entitled to Collect Restitution Damages for Decedent's Pre-Death Economic Losses

In the People v. Runyan, the trial court convicted Runyan of gross vehicular manslaughter and ordered him to pay Benge's (victim) estate restitution damages of approximately $450,000. Runyan appealed claiming that Benge's estate was not a direct victim of the crime under Penal Code section 1202.4. Since Benge left no heirs or relatives, there was no victim who could receive the restitution.

Penal Code section 1202.4, provides that "in every case in which a victim has suffered economic loss as a result of defendant's conduct, the court shall require that the defendant make restitution to the victim or victims in an amount established by court order, based on the amount of loss claimed by the victim or victims or any other showing to the court." Victim is defined in section 1202.4 as including: "(1) the immediate surviving family of the actual victim; (2) any corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, joint venture, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality, or any other legal or commercial entity when that entity is a direct victim of a crime"

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment claiming that the estate only existed because of Runyan's criminal acts, and was therefore entitled to restitution.

However, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal's decision stating that an estate cannot be a direct victim as it was not the immediate object of Runyan's offenses and it did not even exist at the time the crime was committed. Benge's estate only came into being as a result of those offenses. However, upon Benge's death, his estate's personal representative steps into his shoes to collect the restitution damages owed to him for economic loss. The Supreme Court pondered on what form of economic loss a victim continues to suffer after death and noted that in civil law, a claim cannot be asserted for injury or damage to the decedent that occurs after death. Accordingly, the Supreme Court ruled that post-death restitution damages are not recoverable. And although Benge's personal representative was entitled to receive restitution on Benge's behalf for economic losses occurring prior to his death, the Court has determined that in this case, there were no pre-death economic losses.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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