How are personal injury awards from car accidents calculated?
In California, there are generally two types of damages available to victims of car accidents: special (economic) and general (non-economic) damages. Special damages generally include the type of expenses that can be easily calculated, such as the cost of medical treatment. General damages include more speculative costs, such as pain and suffering. These types of damages are known as compensatory damages, as they are intended to compensate a victim and make him or her whole again.
A personal injury award in a California car accident case will be calculated by first tallying up the special or economic damages. These are the damages for which a dollar amount can readily be attached, including (but not limited to):
- Past and future medical bills;
- Property damage and loss;
- Lost wages; and
- Lost earning capacity.
Next, a jury or other fact-finder will examine general or non-economic damages. These are the type of losses that do not necessarily have a bill or receipt, but nevertheless are an injury suffered by the plaintiff. These damages are calculated through evidence presented at trial, and may include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Physical impairment;
- Loss of enjoyment of life; and
California is a comparative fault state. This means that if the plaintiff was partially at fault for the car accident, then his or her recovery will be reduced by the percentage that he or she was to blame for the crash. Even if the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault for the collision, he or she can still recover; their award will simply be reduced by the percentage of their fault (which is determined by the jury). For example, if an award for damages is $100,000 and the jury determines that the plaintiff was 55% at fault for the accident, then the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by $55,000.
In rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded by a California jury. This is unusual in car accident cases, which typically involve negligence, as punitive damages are generally only awarded when a defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter others from similar conduct. However, if the defendant caused the accident because he or she was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, punitive damages may be awarded. A seasoned California personal injury lawyer can work with you to determine if punitive damages may be available in your case.