Who benefits from a finger in the chili?
October 18, 2007
On March 22, 2005, Anna Ayala and her family went to a Wendys fast food restaurant on Monterey Road in San Jose. She ordered chili. You know what happened next.Ayala ran around the restaurant screaming dont eat the chililook what I found in mine.She did numerous television interviews. When asked if she put the finger in her own chili she replied, Where would I get a damn finger, for Gods sake? (Oh no, Im gonna get sent to the Principals office again for bad language.)
One way to get a finger in your chili is to buy one, and thats exactly what Ayala and her husband did. Theyre hard to find at the supermarket, however. One of her husbands coworkers had severed his finger in a work-related accident in Nevada. (I wonder if bringing a finger across a state line is a crime). Ayalas husband bought the fingertip for $100 (seems like a fair price) and told the coworker that he was going to have his wife place the fingertip in some food. Of course, later on the coworker so testified.Sometime later it was determined the condition of the fingertip found in Ayalas chili was inconsistent with it having been cooked in chili at 170 degrees for three hours, Wendys method in preparing chili. Ultimately it was determined exactly where the finger came from.Anna Ayala pled guilty to felony counts of presenting a false insurance claim and grand theft of property over $400. The trial court sentenced her to a five-year prison term the maximum sentence.The court also ordered Ayala to make restitution to Wendys International Corporation, as well as the owner of the San Jose Wendys and the employees of three different Wendys who had been affected by the immediate slow-down in business.Specifically, the trial court ordered that restitution be made to Wendys International in the amount of $21,254,307, to the San Jose Wendys owner in the amount of $493,343 and to the employees for $177,604.46.
Ayala appealed the restitution order to the Wendys employees claiming they were not direct victims within the meaning of the victim restitution laws in California. The employee restitution appeal is the only part of the case we are going to discuss today, because the rest of the case is boring. Even more boring than what we are discussing.
The point of todays column, if there is one, is not to rehash Wendys unfortunate finger-in-the-chili incident (Ayala ordered meatless!), but to bring to the forefront Californias encompassing victim restitution laws, where victims of crimes may be reimbursed for their losses.Californians enacted Proposition 8 in 1982 and from Prop 8 came a plethora of implementation laws described by one court as a bewildering array of responsive statutes. One such law requires mandatory restitution for victims of crimes paid directly by the defendant. There is no limit on that form of restitution as long as the victim is a direct victim.And that was the issue for the Wendys case, whether the employees were direct victims. Wendys clearly was a direct victim. Were the employees? After the chili incident, many employees hours were dramatically reduced due to the slow-down in business. A detailed summary of loss of wages was presented to the court ranging from $1 to more than $6,100 for one employee.
The Court of Appeal recited the broad mandates of Prop 8: It is the unequivocal intention of the People of the State of California that all persons who suffer losses as a result of criminal activity shall have the right to restitution from the persons convicted of the crimes for the losses they suffer.The Court of Appeal had no problem upholding restitution in the amount $177,604.46 for the Wendys employees. Just in time for a Christmas bonus. Unfortunately, of course, Ayala has no money.But Proposition 8 enacted the Victim Compensation Program, and thats the point of this column to tell you about the VCP. In case you or a friend are a victim of crime.
Victims of crimes are entitled to seek compensation for their injuries and losses through a state fund. The VCP has all sorts of rules and limitations, but it is broadly construed, so most crime victims may be reimbursed for their crime-related medical and dental expenses, including mental health, as well as wage and other losses provided those expenses have not been previously paid or reimbursed, such as through workers compensation, MediCal or health insurance. Pain and suffering is not compensable. The overall maximum amount that may be reimbursed to a victim from the VCP is $70,000. For more information regarding the VCP, call 1-800-777-9229 or call the local Victim/Witness Assistance Center. For Placer County call the Placer County District Attorneys office at (530) 889-7021 or the Nevada County Probation office at (530) 265-1246 or visit http://www.victimcompensation.ca.gov/Victims.htm.Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or at the firms web site http://www.portersimon.com.