Compensation for Personal Injury Victims in California

July 18, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Compensation for Personal Injury Victims in California

If you are the victim of a personal injury in California, you may be able to seek compensation from the person responsible. If another person or entity was responsible for your injuries and/or property damage, they should be held accountable. 

Hiring a personal injury lawyer is one of the best ways to ensure that fault in your situation is properly assigned. When dealing with larger companies or corporations, they may try to place some of the blame on you, reducing your benefits. To maximize potential compensation, you should work with an experienced attorney who understands the rules and laws surrounding personal injury in CA.

Lawsuit Damage Types in a California Personal Injury Case

Personal injury damages aim to allow the injured party to continue as if the accident had never happened. The idea is to put the person wronged in a position as if they never suffered. Bakersfield personal injury lawyers will do whatever possible to get you close to your previous financial standing. 

It can be difficult to keep track of the various types of compensation for personal injury in California because subcategories are different and are often called by multiple names.

The most common type of damages you will likely recover in a personal injury case are compensatory damages.

Compensatory Damages

“Compensatory damages” is a term that refers to anything given to the plaintiff for the plaintiff. If the motive behind awarding said benefit is to help the personal injury victim, it can be considered compensatory. These damages compensate not only the costs that a victim has already paid but also any future expenses they may face due to their injury. The more severe the damages, the more money you will recover in response.

Compensatory damages are divided into two smaller categories: special and general. 

Special Damages California

Special damages, also called “actual” or “economic” damages, deal with monetary costs. Anything intended to reimburse the client for actual expenses or cover future ones is considered special damages. If you were (or will be) required to make a monetary payment due to your injury, that should be covered by special damages as well.

This type of compensation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Hospital bills
  • Transportation fees
  • Extended home care – If you need additional assistance after you leave the hospital or stop receiving medical treatment, your personal injury damages could cover that expense. 
  • Increased living expenses – This could include additional accommodations to your home due to newly developed disabilities. 
  • Lost wages – The wages, commissions, bonuses, and other earnings you would have received had the injury not occurred. These benefits are typically decided from the presentation of past pay stubs and can be supported by statements from coworkers, clients, or accountants. 
  • Loss of future income – This expense is similar to lost wages but covers the money you will not be able to make in the time to come. If you are expected to be in recovery–or not at full strength to do your job–for six months, a loss of future income will pay you in advance. 
  • Rehab expenses
  • Money for medicine or prescription drugs
  • Domestic services
  • Property repair or replacement
  • And more

For these losses to be compensated, they must be tied to a specific monetary value. You will not receive a lump sum for “medical bills”; you will receive the amount you need to pay off particular bills, which you can provide the receipt for. The idea of actual damages came from the Supreme Court Birdsall v. Coolidge, 93 U.S. 64 decision in 1876.

If special damages were the only thing awarded, the victim of a personal injury accident would ideally experience a net-zero cost after their personal injury. However, depending on the nature of the accident, a traumatic event may result in additional pain and suffering that is not quantifiable but can drastically reduce the quality of life. As you might expect, the only way for a court to compensate victims for this added stress is by rewarding more money. 

General Damages California

General damages, also known as “non-economic” damages, result in additional funds for the plaintiff. They are called non-economic damages because they apply to more abstract losses without exact numerical values. If you lose your legs in a drunk driving accident, having your medical bills covered will hardly feel like enough. You may never be able to walk again. General damages are intended to compensate for additional losses that exceed monetary figures.

Some examples of general losses include–but are not limited to–the following:

  • Loss of enjoyment of life – Money can’t buy happiness, but it can help reduce stress. If your accident causes a decrease in your quality of life, general damages will strive to address that. 
  • Loss of opportunity –  Serious injuries can derail your life plan. If you are trying to be a professional athlete and lose mobility for six months, that can seriously setback your physical health. If you are studying to be a surgeon and suffer hand injuries, you might not be able to pursue that career anymore. 
  • Disfigurement – Serious disfigurement and scars can come from injuries but can also come from the resulting surgeries. If your face or body is permanently disfigured as a result of an accident or the following medical treatment, you may be able to recover additional compensation.
  • Loss of consortium/companionship – This deals with the loss of a loved one or a loved one’s ability to provide the care you previously had. You may be eligible for benefits if they are mentally or physically unable to give companionship. 
  • Long-term physical suffering – Even though you may have your injuries treated or “fixed,” they may still cause constant pain or make you feel uncomfortable in your life. If you experience lower back issues that hurt each time you get out of bed, there may be no specific medical treatment to fix that. You may receive additional general damages to seek physical therapy or try to make up for that pain in other ways. 
  • Emotional pain and suffering – Accidents can be traumatic, sad, and stressful. Dealing with lasting mental anguish can take a lot out of you.
  • Inconvenience – When an accident’s injuries limit your daily activities, you are reminded that a normal life was taken from you.

The plaintiff should have sufficient monetary resources for their injuries between general and special damages. There is, however, another type of personal injury compensation available.

Punitive Damages

In addition to compensatory damages, victims of a personal injury case may also be eligible for punitive damages. This type of damage is intended to punish the responsible party and deter them from repeating the same mistake in the future. Even if the plaintiff receives a large sum of money for punitive damages, this has nothing to do with how much they suffered. The court decides whether or not the defendant should be fined for punitive damages.

Things to Know About Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are not commonly awarded. Only in cases of gross or excessive negligence are they added to personal injury benefits. This usually means that the company or entity responsible for others’ safety knowingly engaged in improper conduct. They understood what the rules were and still went against them for one reason or another. If the defendant purposely violates the law, he may be awarded treble damages by the court, tripling their existing benefits.

Additionally, punitive damages are not very viable in injury lawsuits between individuals. They are more likely to occur when dealing with large corporations or businesses with large sums of money. This also leads to another important point: punitive damages are often determined to scale.

The more money a company makes, the more negligent its actions are, and the more they will have to compensate. Even though they are both large companies, Amazon and In-N-Out burger do not make the same amount of money. In-N-Out makes around $600 million annually, while Amazon grosses almost $450 billion. It would take a much harsher penalty to deter Amazon than it would In-N-Out. 

Example of a Punitive Damages Case

So why would punitive damages be necessary in addition to already being sued? Sometimes large businesses and corporations have such a significant income that the lawsuit doesn’t make an impact. Furthermore, sometimes they justify paying damages to a couple of individuals if breaking certain rules saves them more money.

Let’s say that a company has 15,000 employees, and each one is required by state code to wear the proper protective gear in case of an accident. The proper protective gear includes glasses, gloves, a helmet, uniform shoes, and a reflective jacket. The total cost of the outfit is around $150. A company would have to spend $2,250,000 to purchase the necessary equipment for all 15,000 employees.

 If accidents aren’t common in their line of work, and a personal injury case is unlikely to exceed a few hundred thousand dollars; they could pay out benefits for 10 serious accidents while still increasing their bottom line.

The courts don’t like that a company can risk the safety of their employees for an extra buck, especially if the accidents would have been prevented by the proper equipment. So instead of rewarding the plaintiff with $200,000 in compensatory damages, they also tack on an extra $1-2 million in punitive damages. This, in turn, communicates to the company that the risk is not worth the reward and that buying the proper equipment is necessary if they truly hope to protect their profits.

Wrongful Death Damages

If your loved one died in or as a result of a personal injury accident, you might be eligible to recover wrongful death damages. While these may look similar to the benefits listed above, they are often more substantial. Especially if the individual who died was a primary source of income for your household, you should look for a Bakersfield wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to figure out your next steps toward compensation.

Chain | Cohn | Clark Will Help You Recover Damages

Don’t trust anybody to work for you. Trust a Kern County law firm with decades of experience and knowledge. Our attorneys have an in-depth understanding of the different types of personal injury damages. They will do everything possible to ensure that you receive the benefits you are entitled to.

We can work with you every step of the way, or you can let us handle the details while you focus on recovering from your accident. In any case, you should know that we are here for you, not the insurance companies, and we will ensure that the responsible, guilty party is held accountable.

Fill out the form on our website to get started with a free case evaluation today.