Restitution – especially in cases of unjust enrichment (including fraud and theft), compensation paid by a criminal to a victim, not awarded in a civil trial, but ordered as part of a criminal sentence or as a condition of probation

n. (13c)

1. A body of substantive law in which liability is based not on tort or contract but on the defendant’s unjust enrichment. 

2. The set of remedies associated with that body of law, in which the measure of recover is usually based not on the plaintiff’s loss, but on the defendant’s gain.

3. Return or restoration of some specific thing to its rightful owner or status.

4. Compensation for loss; especially, full or partial compensation paid by a criminal to a victim, not awarded in a civil trial for tort, but ordered as part of a criminal sentence or as a condition of probation. — aka criminal restitution.

5. Archaic. A judicial writ restoring to a successful appellant what had been lost by reason of the lower court’s erroneous judgment.

6. A judicial order for the restoration of stolen goods, or of their value, to the owner upon the thief’s conviction.restitutionary, adj. [1]

     Excerpt from George E. Palmer’s The Law of Restitution:

    “The term ‘restitution’ appears in early decisions, but general recognition probably began with the publication of the Restatement of Restitution [in 1937]. The term is not wholly apt since it suggests restoration to the successful party of some benefit obtained from him. Usually this will be the case where relief is given, but by no means always.  There are cases in which the successful party obtains restitution of something he did not have before, for example a benefit received by the defendant from a third person which justly should go to the plaintiff.[2]

     Excerpt from John D. Calamari & Joseph M. Perillo’s The Law of Contracts:

     “‘Restitution’ is an ambiguous term, sometimes referring to the disgorging of something which has been taken, and at times referring to compensation for injury done.  Often, the result under either meaning of the term would be the same. If the plaintiff has been defrauded into paying $1,000 to the defendant, his loss & the defendant’s gain coincide.  Where they do not coincide, as where the plaintiff is out of pocket more than the defendant has gained & the defendant’s conduct it tortious, the plaintiff will recover his loss in a quasi-contractual or equitable action for restitution. Unjust impoverishment as well as unjust enrichment is a ground for restitution.  If the defendant is guilty of a non-tortious misrepresentation, the measure of recovery is not rigid but, as in other cases of restitution, such factors as relative fault, the agreed upon risks, and the fairness of alternative risk allocations not agreed upon and not attributable to the fault of either party need to be weighed.[3]


All material utilized in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: All definitions from: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: 1 George E. Palmer, The Law of Restitution § 1.1, at 4 (1978)

[3]: John D. Calamari & Joseph M. Perillo’s The Law of Contracts


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