Victim Compensation for Crime

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VICTIM COMPENSATION CASES MAY TURN ON AVAILABILITY OF INSURANCE COVERAGE.

Crime victim compensation is sometimes provided through the criminal justice system. But, to fully compensate a victim, it may be necessary to bring a civil lawsuit against responsible parties. Sometimes, it is not only the fault of the criminal that the victim was harmed. In such situations, victim compensation may be obtained from other parties. A recent victim compensation case illustrates this.

On February 7, 2011, at the jewelry store in Bridgewater owned by Roy DeVoe, Roy’s daughter Angela observed Michael Koury enter. Michael was disguised as a Hasidic Jew. Angela asked if he needed assistance. Michael responded: “Start packing up like it’s five o’clock and it’s time to go. I want gold, silver, platinum, no watches and I’m taking it with me. If you don’t, there’s enough bullets in this gun to kill … you and myself.”

Angela did not take Michael seriously. But then he said, “You don’t believe me, you want to bet your life on it?”

Angela called Roy, and started to dial 9-1-1.  Michael told her to put the phone down.

Roy approached Michael from the back of the store. Roy was holding a knife and an aluminum pipe. He asked Michael to leave. Michael replied: “Are you willing to bet your life on that?” Michael then shot Roy in the head. Michael also shot at Angela, but missed. Then Michael shot himself.  Both Roy and Michael died from their wounds.

Michael’s mother had found a note in his room. The note read: “I am dissatisfied with the current state of my life. To rectify this, I have devised a plan that will either improve or end my life. I don’t expect you to understand, just know it’s not your fault.” Michael’s father told the police that Michael “was depressed because he was recently disqualified from entering the military due to a medical condition.”

Surviving members of the DeVoe family sued Michael’s parents.  They claimed that the Kourys bore some responsibility for Michael’s actions.  They allegedly knew he was mentally unstable, but failed to take protective action.

The DeVoes also sued New Jersey Manufacturers (NJM), the Kourys’ homeowner’s insurer. NJM asserted that the Kourys were not entitled to coverage, because Michael’s actions were intentional acts.  Insurance generally protects   the insured from financial responsibility for harm resulting from the insured’s negligence (carelessness), not his purposeful acts.

Victim compensation in a civil case usually will not be available, as a practical matter, unless the responsible party has insurance coverage. Otherwise, the responsible party typically doesn’t have enough money to pay victim compensation.

 

NJM filed a motion to dismiss the DeVoes’ case. The DeVoes produced a psychiatric report, stating that Michael actions were caused by mental derangement, and were not intentional.

A judge granted the motion brought by NJM. The judge suppressed the psychiatric report. The judge ruled that the report only stated a conclusion, but did not provide sufficient reasons for that conclusion.  (This is referred to as a “net opinion.”) The judge further ruled that, without a proper expert report, the DeVoes could not prove that Michael’s acts were not intentional. The judge therefore ruled for NJM, and threw out the DeVoes’ claim against the insurer. The DeVoes appealed.

 

In March 2015, the appeals court upheld the dismissal. It rejected the DeVoes’ contention that attempting to commit a robbery, wearing an unusual disguise, murdering a store owner, and committing suicide, demonstrated Michael’s mental derangement, even without a shrink saying so.

I strongly disagree with the decision. It defies common sense, and heartlessly denies victim compensation. What do you think?

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