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Damages in California

Personal Injury Attorneys in Irvine, San Bernardino, Riverside & San Diego

If you or a loved one has been injured because of the negligent conduct of another, you can recover monetary compensation from the negligent party. The damages an injured party may be awarded depends on the facts and circumstances of that party's case. This page will discuss the types of damages that can be awarded in California, how comparative negligence affects damages, and some of the limitations on damage awards.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your case, contact our Orange County personal injury attorneys at Woods Williford, P.C. by calling (949) 558-2245.

Types of Damages

There are three main categories of damages in California: economic damages, noneconomic damages, and punitive damages.

  • Economic damages: Economic damages are "objectively verifiable monetary losses including medical expenses, loss of earnings, burial costs, loss of use of property, costs of repair or replacement, costs of obtaining substitute domestic services, loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities" Cal. Civ. Code § 1431.2(b)(1).
  • Noneconomic damages: Noneconomic damages are "subjective, non-monetary losses including, but not limited to, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental suffering, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation and humiliation" Cal. Civ. Code § 1431.2(b)(2).
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are different than economic or noneconomic damages. Economic and noneconomic damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for his or her injuries. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for egregious conduct and to deter similar conduct in the future. In California, in order to recover punitive damages, there is a different burden of proof that a plaintiff must meet. To recover economic and noneconomic damages a plaintiff must show that the defendant is liable by a preponderance of the evidence. To recover punitive damages, California law requires the plaintiff to prove "by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice. Cal. Civ. Code § 3294(a). If the plaintiff can show the defendant's conduct met this heightened standard of proof that the plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages.

Comparative Negligence

Sometimes in an accident, the plaintiff may be partially at fault for his or her injuries. When this happens comparative negligence may come into play. Comparative negligence is used to apportion fault between the plaintiff and the defendant. There are different types of comparative negligence rules and different states follow different rules.

An older rule that is still followed by a few states, as well as the District of Columbia, is contributory negligence. Under this doctrine, if the plaintiff is even a little bit at fault for his or her injuries, then the plaintiff cannot recover any damages from the defendant. Most states have moved away from this doctrine and follow instead a form of comparative negligence, which still allows a plaintiff to recover damages if he or she is at fault for the accident.

California follows the pure form of comparative negligence. Under this rule, each party bears the burden of his or her own fault. That is, the fault for an accident is divided between the plaintiff and the defendant based on how much each party's conduct contributed to the plaintiff's injuries. Generally, this is expressed as a percentage value. The plaintiff's damages are then reduced based on the percent of his or her fault.

For example, Pam is driving down the road looking for a delicious place to get some lunch. Dave is driving behind Pam, texting on his phone and only half pay attention to the road. Pam suddenly sees the new burger place and realizes that would hit the spot. She suddenly slows down in order to make the turn. Dave realizes that Pam has slammed on her brakes a little too late and he crashes into her. Pam is injured and subsequently files suit against Dave.

At the trial, the jury finds both parties to be at fault for the accident - Dave for texting and Pam for slamming on her brakes. The jury decides that Dave is 80% at fault for the accident and Pam is 20% at fault. They award Pam $100,000 in damages for her injuries. Because California follows pure comparative negligence, Pam's damage award is then reduced by the percentage of her fault. Thus, her compensation for the accident is $80,000.

Limitations on Damages

In California, there are a number of different limitations that can be placed on damage awards. The limitations that are applicable in a given case will depend on the law and what happened in that case. For example, under the law of this state, a plaintiff generally cannot recover punitive damages in a wrongful death case. However, as with most legal rules, there is an exception. Punitive damages can be recovered in a wrongful death case against a defendant who was convicted of felony murder, according to Cal Civ. Code § 3294(d).

There can also be limitations on noneconomic damages. Under California law, a plaintiff who is uninsured may not be able to recover noneconomic damages in a motor vehicle accident. However, again, there are exceptions to this rule. One of these is if the plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident by a driver who was operating their vehicle while under the influence. If the driver was convicted of DUI under the California Vehicle Code section 23152 or 23153, then the injured plaintiff can still seek compensation for noneconomic damages (see Cal. Civ. Code § 3333.4).

Contact Our Orange County Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, you will want a knowledgeable, professional, experienced, and compassionate attorney to help you recover compensation from the negligent party who's careless conduct caused you or your loved one harm. The lawyers at Woods Williford, P.C. have extensive experience practicing personal injury law in California. Our firm truly cares about the clients we choose to represent and we are dedicated to providing the best possible counsel to each and every client. In addition, our firm offers a free case consultation to all potential clients, so please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your case.

You can reach our office by calling (949) 558-2245 or by clicking here to fill out our online form.
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