Many victims of drunk drivers face a grim reality: the drunk driver either doesn’t have liability insurance or doesn’t have enough coverage to fully compensate him. The situation adds insult to injury as the injured person struggles to pay his doctors and therapists and the financial stress of forced time-off from work while attempting to recover from his injuries.
Of course, driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime in Missouri. Some monetary relief is available to Missouri crime victims on a relatively immediate basis through the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.
The General Assembly created the Program in 1981. Its purpose is to financially assist victims of violent crimes to pay certain expenses, including medical, counseling and funeral expenses, plus lost wages. A victim may make a claim for out-of-pocket losses greater than $50 and for lost wages when he misses two or more continuous weeks of earnings from gainful employment.
Eligibility for compensation from the Program is established by statute. Missouri law directs that any person who suffers “personal physical injury” or death as a direct result of a crime is eligible for compensation. “Personal physical injury” is defined relatively narrowly by statute; the term means “actual bodily harm only with respect to the victim”. However, the term does include certain emotional injury, specifically “mental or nervous shock” resulting from the crash.
Victims of drunk drivers are eligible for compensation so long as the collision occurred in Missouri. In fact, the statute specifically provides that victims of any act involving the use of force or violence may make a claim against the Program. These crimes include driving while intoxicated, vehicular manslaughter and hit and run collisions. These are the only situations where an injury from a car is compensable as the collision must result from injury intentionally inflicted through the use of a vehicle.
Victims must do ALL of the following to successfully make a claim against the Program.
- Report the crime to the proper law enforcement agency within 48 hours of the collision (this requirement may be waived if the victim is under the age of 18 years or medically unable to make the claim within 48 hours of the crash)
- Cooperate with law enforcement in both the apprehension and prosecution of the offender
- File his application within two years of the crime date
- Provide independent documentation supporting the victim’s claim
The Program is the payer of last resort, meaning that a victim must exhaust all other sources of payment before the Program issues compensation. Health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and payments received from automobile insurance are examples of resources that must be used before the Program makes payment. The Program has the right to recover compensation paid the victim if the victim later receives restitution. Should the victim pursue a personal injury claim, statute requires the victim provide the Program written notice within 15 days of filing an action or entering into negotiations with the offender.
In no instance will the Program compensate any victim more than $25,000 for losses resulting from a single crime. Further, there are limits placed on certain expenses:
- Counseling expenses are limited to a total of $2,500
- Funeral expenses are capped at $5,000
- Lost wages may be reimbursed up to $400 per week ($200 if the crime occurred before August 15, 2015)
Matt Devoti is a partner with Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm. He handles a variety of personal injury cases, with a special emphasis on victims of impaired, drunk or distracted driving. Matt and his law partner, Matt Casey, are also authorized speakers for EndDD.org’s ‘End Distracted Driving Student Awareness Initiative’.