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Legal Learning: Reparations for victims

The 2017 report of the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board has come out, and has some interesting information.

This is a board that was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1974. It recognized that many victims incur expenses they can't afford to pay, and most are unable to collect full restitution from criminal offenders. The program has grown over the years, and last fiscal year, the Board paid out more than $3.8 million to 1,294 victims and their families in our state. New claims last year (1,539 of them) were 20 percent more than the year before.

A majority of the new applications resulted from assaults, homicides, robberies, child abuse, sexual assaults or impaired driving. Some 31 percent were related to domestic violence; 8 percent were homicides; and 29 percent were for child victims. Nearly 58 percent of victims were female and 42 percent were male. The majority of applications came from Hennepin County (34 percent), Ramsey County (19 percent), Dakota County (7 percent) and Anoka County (5 percent).

The Board pays only expenses that are not covered by another source of funding, such as health or auto insurance. Property losses are not covered. There are caps on most expenses — medical, dental and mental health costs are usually covered at a reduced rate when paid directly to the provider, and total benefits paid may not exceed $50,000.

The largest category of expenses (38 percent) was economic support, which included lost wages and survivor benefits to dependents of a deceased victim. Lost wages are paid for up to 52 weeks.

Medical expenses include hospital and clinic fees, ambulance service, prescriptions, chiropractic care, physical therapy, chemical dependency treatment and accessibility remodeling. Medical expenses accounted for 35 percent of all reparations payments last year, the second-largest category.

Funeral and burial costs are paid up to $7,500, including transportation and lodging for family members to attend the funeral, plus $1,000 for a headstone. This type of payment was the third-largest category of expenditures at 15 percent.

Mental health counseling for the victim is capped at $7,500, and counseling benefits are also available for family members of the victim and even for witnesses to a violent crime. This was the fourth-largest type of expenditures at 10 percent.

Where does all of this money come from? The primary source of funding is an appropriation from the state's general fund. Another source is an annual grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. But a large source is court-ordered payments made by offenders, amounting to $514,431 last year. The program also received $233,855 from unclaimed restitution funds held by counties for three years that still remained unclaimed. In addition, the program recovered $45,665 from civil awards against offenders, and $484,186 collected by the Department of Corrections from inmate wage deductions.

If you are a victim, your claim must be submitted to the Board within three years of the crime (except for child abuse); the crime must have been reported to the police within 30 days (except for sexual assault and child sexual abuse); and the victim must have cooperated fully with law enforcement officials and prosecution.

The annual report has some inspiring comments from victims who received help. One said this: "It is great that the State of Minnesota has this wonderful program for people who suffer from circumstances such as my sister's death due to murder. It doesn't bring her back but it certainly helps ease the pain."

Another said: "I was assaulted walking down a St. Paul street. A huge hospital bill would have been enormously difficult. So your help is considered a small miracle."

Another: "This program gave one of the darkest moments in my life a light at the end of the tunnel."

It's nice to read good news once in a while.

James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate. He handles family law, wills and probate in and around Lake County, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and are not to be attributed to his employer.

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