The robbed man

In a textbook on Dutch property law, we found the following example:

A criminal robs an elderly man of all his savings, 20,000 euros in total. As a result of this cowardly attack, the neighbourhood raised 10,000 euros for the benefit of the robbed man.

The question is now whether the criminal should pay 20,000 euros or 10,000 in compensation to his victim? As a general rule (in Dutch law) people should not gain from a civil wrong, i.e. compensation should not be greater than the loss one has suffered.

The elderly man has lost 20,000 during the robbery, but he got 10,000 from his neighbours as a result of the robbery. Hence is total loss is only 10,000. Consequently the robber should only pay 10,000 euros to his victim. But in this case the robber gains 10,000 from his crime, which seems to be unfair. On the other hand if the robber has to pay 20,000 euros back, the elderly man gain 10,000 euros as his wealth is increased from 20,000 to 30,000. Hence the victim would be better off as a result of this crime, since without the robbery he would only have 20,000.

Both scenarios are uneasy. The latter one would create incentives for people to “fake” crimes in order to exploit public sympathy for monetary gain. The former scenario will encourage people to commit crimes, because there is a possibility criminals could keep some of the loot. Since the legislator found this case a greater evil than the possibility of people to fake crimes, it has decided that in similar cases that criminals should pay full compensation, even if their victims would be consequently better off than before the crime.

Our solution would however be the following. The robber should pay 20,000, but only 10,000 would go to the victim while the remainder would go to those neighbourhood residents who had made a donation. What do you think?


Nieuwenhuis, J.H. Hoofdstukken vermogensrecht, zevende druk. Kluwer, Deventer 2003.

5 thoughts on “The robbed man”

  1. My suggestion would be in the same line as one suggested by you.
    The balance of 10000 could be used to improve the neighbourhood if such a need is there.

    1. >>The balance of 10000 could be used to improve the neighbourhood if such a need is there.

      That would be an idea, in particular in case of anonymous donors who can’t be traced and hence cannot receive a “refund”.

  2. What is the purpose of the action against the criminal? Is it to punish (to hurt) so he/she will not commit the crime again? If so, simple restitution is inadequate: to cause pain take all she/he has, giving part to the injured party, and the rest to the helpful neighborhood (which encourages continued helpful behavior). If the action against the criminal is designed to rehabilitate, then it fails to ensure rehabilitation: it would seem if this is the intent, then incarcaration and/or retraining is required until rehabilitation is certified by experts. If the action is to protect others of society from the same action, without undue pain or brainwashing (which, after all, is what rehabilitation seems to entail), then warehousing the ciminal, more or less permanently, would seem to be needed. What will be the purpose of action against criminals be in a new society?

    1. This exercise is about private law not criminal law. The question at stake here is compensation for suffered loss by the victim, and who and to what extent should pay this compensation. This compensation is as such not intended as a punishment, the question what punishment the criminal should get is a separate issue.

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