The short answer to the question of whether you are responsible to pay for restitution when you are involved in a car accident when you were NOT at fault is NO, you don’t have to pay. It seems like common sense that if you did not cause the accident you shouldn’t have to pay for it. The California Supreme Court addressed this issue in People v. Martinez. In that case the defendant was driving a pickup truck when a 12 year old boy on a scooter failed to stop before darting out in front of him. The pickup truck had no chance to stop before hitting the boy. Even the boy’s mother agreed with these facts and that the driver was not at fault for hitting the boy.
In the Martinez case the driver stayed with the boy, waited with the boy’s mother until the ambulance arrived and the ambulance drove off with the boy inside. Then the driver left without giving his information to anyone because he was on felony probation and didn’t want to be identified. The victim in this case was seriously injured with multiple fractures and traumatic brain injury. The fact that the defendant essentially fled the scene of the accident (even though he stayed until help arrived, he didn’t give his information to anyone) didn’t change the court’s opinion that he didn’t need to pay for an accident that he didn’t cause. Indeed, the California Supreme Court has said that even if the driver had been negligent and was at fault for the accident he would not be required to pay direct victim restitution. The only way the defendant would be required to pay restitution would be if his criminal actions CAUSED additional injuries. In other words if the driver had fled (a criminal act) and had NOT tried to give aid and had NOT stayed to make sure the ambulance arrived and his leaving CAUSED the boy additional medical problems then he would be required to pay. If the boy had suffered additional injuries due to the delay in getting medical help, for example, the defendant could be ordered to pay for those increased medical bills because those additional bills were a result of his delaying medical treatment.
This is an example of why knowing the intricacies of the law is so important and hiring an experienced criminal law attorney is so crucial. The law in this area is somewhat complicated and can be confusing. Hiring the best criminal defense lawyer is your best chance to avoid paying unnecessary restitution and for avoiding possible criminal charges.