When pursuing personal injury claims in California, there are two main categories of potential compensation: economic damages and non-economic damages. The differences are relatively simple:
For economic damages think of “out of pocket losses.” These “out of pocket” losses generally consist of:
- Medical bills to treat the injuries (whether you pay them, your insurance company pays them, or they are billed on a lien)
- Future medical bills (experts will need to calculate what may be needed for long-term care)
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Vocational rehabilitation
For non-economic damages think of the “human losses” that cannot be easily quantified by looking at an invoice or bill. These “human losses” might include (past and future):
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium (loss of relationship with spouse or partner)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Physical impairment
A third category of compensation, “punitive damages,” are rare. These are sometimes awarded to punish a defendant, and to serve as a deterrent. California law requires proof that the defendant or at-fault party acted with malice, oppression or fraud. Per Civil Code Section 3294:
c) As used in this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1) “Malice” means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.
(2) “Oppression” means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.
(3) “Fraud” means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.
Determining Personal Injury Compensation
Now you know what types of damages you are allowed to recover after being injured in an accident. The next question is how much can you recover? In other words, what is your case worth?
There is no set formula for determining this. You may hear others talk about formulas consisting of multipliers of medical bills that were used many years ago (not any more) or that insurance companies use software to determine ranges of values on certain types of cases (they do). In the end, every case is unique because every client is unique – the injuries you suffer and how you recover will not be the same as everyone else’s suffering and recovery. Therefore, each case must be valued individually.
The at-fault party’s insurance company may reach out to you and offer a quick settlement. Be very careful if this happens. If you suffered minor injuries and want to accept the offer, at the minimum make sure the settlement covers the costs of the following:
- Medical treatment – immediate treatment at the time of injury, plus future treatment, physical therapy, etc.
- Lost earnings – were you out of work because of your injury?
- Property damage – damage to your car not covered by insurance or to personal property items.
Additionally you should receive an amount for the “human losses” discussed above. Although it might be best for you to settle your case on your own, you should not do so unless you are absolutely sure you have completely recovered (you cannot get anything later if your pain returns), and you have at least consulted with a reputable injury lawyer who will give you an honest opinion as to whether it is worth hiring an attorney to represent you.
If you suffered more serious injuries or are still suffering the effects of your injuries, it is strongly recommended you don’t accept an insurance company’s offer to settle. Contact a personal injury attorney immediately for a more thorough assessment of your case. We offer free consultations, and will give you an honest opinion so you know how to proceed with your case.