Frequently Asked Questions

How are damages assessed in a personal injury case?

In a personal injury case, one of the most critical aspects is assessing the value of the damages. Under California law, there are general two types of damages available: special or economic and general or noneconomic damages. A third type of damages, punitive damages, is typically reserved for cases where the defendant acted in an intentional or grossly negligent manner.

Special damages include all of the out-of-pocket expenses suffered by the injured party as a result of the accident.  This type of damage is relatively easy to assess, as they typically can be supported by documentation such as bills, wage statements, and other evidence.  Special damages are usually objective and tend to be less speculative than noneconomic damages.  Examples of special damages include present and future medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and loss of future earning capacity (which is somewhat more speculative, but can be estimated based on a person’s age, education, health, gender and career prospects prior to their injury).

In contrast, general damages are more subjective in nature. They cover the emotional or psychological injuries of an accident, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, and disability or disfigurement.  Because it an be harder to determine the values for these types of damages, it is important to work with a skilled personal injury attorney to assess general damages.  A lawyer will use their experience and will consult with experts as necessary to accurately value your general damages.

Finally, punitive damages are sometimes available in personal injury cases.  They are imposed for the purpose of punishing a wrongdoer and deterring others from acting in a similar manner.  They are usually only awarded by juries in cases involving intentional torts, such as assault and battery.  In California, a plaintiff may also seek punitive damages if a drunk driver causes serious injury or death in an accident.

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