October 7, 2003 98-R-0326
FROM: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
RE: Crime Victim Compensation—Motor Vehicle Cases
You asked whether a person injured in an automobile collision under the circumstances described in the attached letter is eligible for compensation from the Office of Victim Services because the driver of the vehicle that caused the collision acted recklessly rather than intentionally.
Carol Watkins, the Director of the Office of Victim Services, advised us that the request for compensation is still open and no final decision has been made. However, she also indicated that it appears unlikely the victim will receive compensation because the commission believes it is not authorized to compensate a victim of a motor vehicle accident unless the at-fault driver is convicted of certain specified motor vehicle offenses. Because the at-fault driver has not been charged with these specific offenses the commission will probably conclude it cannot give compensation according to Watkins.
However, one of the specified offenses is evading responsibility. It is not clear why the prosecutors have not chosen to include this charge. From the facts presented in the attached letter it appears that the driver was committing the offense when he crashed his car into the victim's vehicle. If the presenter elects to include this charge the victim might be eligible for compensation since the statutory criteria would appear to have been met.
But, Watkins cautions that even if the driver is convicted of evading responsibility it still might not help this victim because of the way the commission interprets the law. She advised us that at least up until now the commission had interpreted the law as covering injuries caused by the initial accident from which the offender is fleeing, and not to injuries caused in the course of flight from the first accident. But she acknowledges that the statutes do not specify this and the law could be interpreted in this broader way. She indicated that if the driver in this case is convicted of evading responsibility the commission would probably reconsider the case and the law's meaning.
Watkins advised us that the commission plans to investigate legislation to broaden the law's coverage to include more motor vehicle offenses. We have not yet seen the proposals; thus we do not know whether the proposal would cover the fact situation described in the letter.
On May 8, 1997, Jack Reed an 18-year old lost control of a motor vehicle he was driving and struck a vehicle operated by 17-year old Sara Quadrato and occupied by 15-year old Lee Gargonia. Quadrato was killed, and Gargonia was critically injured. Reed was not seriously injured. Prior to Reed's collision with Quadato's vehicle, he had just caused an accident and was fleeing from that accident scene. The damage to Reed's vehicle caused by the first accident apparently caused the rear tire to break off of Reed's car. Apparently, at the time he was traveling around 80 miles per hour. When Reed's rear tire broke off, his vehicle veered across the center land and struck Quadato's car head on.
Gagno's injuries included a fractured right leg, shattered left hip, a fractured jaw on both sides, cut spleen, collapsed lung, bone chips around his left eye and extensive facial cuts. His medical bills totaled $85,000. He had no medical insurance and Reed was not covered by the auto insurance policy that covered the car he was driving.
CGS § 54-209 authorizes the office of victim services to pay compensation for personal injury or death resulting from: (1) an attempt to prevent a crime or to apprehend a suspected criminal; (2) the commission or attempt to commit any crime; or (3) the operation of a motor vehicle by a person who is subsequently convicted in connection with an accident involving serious physical injury or death, of evading responsibility in connection with an accident involving serious physical injury or death (CGS § 14-224(a)); driving under the influence (CGS § 14-227a; manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle (CGS § 53a-56b); or assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle (CGS § 53a-60d).
CGS § 14-224(a) requires a driver who is knowingly involved in an accident that causes serious physical injury to or results in the death of another person to immediately stop and give whatever assistance is needed. It also requires him to give his name, address, and license and registration numbers to the injured person, or to any witness or officer. If it is not possible to provide this information. The driver must immediately report the accident to the police. Anyone violating this requirement may be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to $5,000, or both.
CGS § 14-227a makes it illegal for a person to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with a blood alcohol level of .10 or more.
CGS § 53a-56b (manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle), makes it illegal for a motor vehicle operator to cause the death of another person as a consequence of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of liquor or drugs.
CGS § 53a-60d (assault in the second degree with a motor vehicle) makes it illegal for a motor vehicle operator to cause serious physical injury to another person as a result of driving under the influence of liquor or drugs.
Carol Watkins advised us that because of the reference to specific motor vehicle offenses in CGS § 54-209(a)(3), her office has concluded that injuries or death caused by motor vehicle collisions resulting in convictions for other offenses are not covered by the victims' compensation laws and thus her office is not authorized to compensate such victims or their families for such injuries or deaths.
In other words, her office has construed the statutory language as establishing a separate rule for injuries or deaths caused by the operation of a motor vehicle. According to Hawkins, if a driver kills or seriously injures another person, the victim is entitled to compensation from her office only if the offender is subsequently convicted of one of these four offenses. If, on the other hand, the offender is subsequently convicted of other offenses, such as manslaughter, in the first degree (CGS § 53a-55), manslaughter in the second degree (CGS § 53a-56), misconduct with a motor vehicle (CGS § 53a-57), criminally negligent homicide (CGS § 53a-58), or assault in the first degree (CGS § 53a-59), compensation cannot be given.