Understanding Damages / Accident Compensation

If you are injured by another person’s carelessness (“negligence”), you are entitled to recover monetary sums (“damages”) for a number of things. The most frequent types of damages in personal injury cases are damages for:

Limitations of Liability

If you are involved in an accident caused by another person, generally you are not limited to the amount of money you are entitled to receive, subject to proof of injury, lost wages, pain and suffering, and so forth. There are generally two broad types of damages that a person who has been injured in a motor vehicle accident can receive: pecuniary, or “economic,” losses, and non-pecuniary, or “non-economic” damages. However, there are three situations in which your recovery may be limited.

Economic damages relate to out-of-pocket costs, expenses on which you can put a certain monetary figure. The two major types of economic damages are medical expenses and lost wages. For example, medical expenses include the costs of paramedics; ambulance transportation to the hospital; emergency room treatment; time and treatment in a hospital, including all hospital room fees, nurses, doctors’ visits, and medications; follow-up care with the doctor; rehabilitation and physical therapy costs; psychological counseling costs; costs of medical devices; wheelchair costs; prosthesis; the cost of a special bed or equipment to get you in and out of bed; and future medical expenses that will be reasonably necessary for the rest of your life that were caused by the accident.

Another element of economic damages involves lost wages. This includes not only the time you were off work because of your injury, but future damages for wages you would have earned had you not been injured; retraining for a new job if you can’t return to your old job; loss of earning capacity if you are unable to return to work at all or are able to return to work but only at a lower-paying job. When a person suffers an injury that affects his or her ability to work in the future, a lump sum of money is recoverable to compensate him or her. This lump sum is “discounted” to an amount that, if invested wisely, would compensate the injured person for the damages he or she would have made but for the injury. For example, if a person would have made $1 million over the remainder of his or her working life, the person is awarded a lump sum of money (such as $600,000) that, when invested properly, will yield $1 million over his or her working life had he or she not been injured.

Non-economic damages refers to damages that are not easily calculable such as medical expenses and lost wages. The major type of non-economic damage is pain and suffering, which varies greatly between individuals and types and severity of injury. Other non-economic damages include inconvenience, physical impairment, and disfigurement. Non-economic damages also include such things as comfort, society, affection, intimacy, ability to engage in sexual relations, play catch with your children, and other intangible activities that we hardly give a thought to until we are injured. In many cases, non-economic damages for pain and suffering constitute the bulk of the award.

In certain instances, an injured victim is entitled to recover only economic damages and not non-economic damages. Foremost among these situations is when the victim gets into an automobile accident that was not his or her fault, but he or she was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). In such a case, the driver is barred from recovering non-economic damages and is limited to recovering only economic damages, even though he or she was in no way responsible for the accident.

Another situation in which a person is prohibited from getting non-economic damages is when he or she was the owner of a vehicle involved in the accident, but could not establish his or her financial responsibility (proof of insurance) as required by California law. In California, a person driving his or her own car must prove that he or she has an automobile insurance policy in effect that provides at a minimum $15,000 coverage per person injured in the accident, to a total of $30,000 of the accident (regardless of how many people are injured or killed in the accident), and property damage insurance with a minimum coverage limit of $5,000. This is typically known as the standard “15/30/5” policy.

If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident and do not have at least this minimum policy, you are prevented from recovering from the guilty party monetary damages for your pain and suffering and other non-economic damages. There is one important exception to this rule: If you were driving your own car but did not have insurance, you may still recover damages for non-economic losses if the person who caused the accident was convicted of driving his or her car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The third situation in which you are banned from recovering compensation for your non-economic losses are when you were the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident and you cannot establish you have at least the minimum insurance coverage as required by California’s financial responsibility laws. As you can see from the above, it is absolutely critical that you obtain minimum insurance coverage if you will be driving your own or someone else’s vehicle on California roads.

More Compensation Questions?

Compensation in accident and injury cases is a complicated topic that can raise a lot of questions. We answer many of the most common accident compensation questions that we receive here. If you still have questions otr would like to speak directly with an accident lawyer, we provide free, no obligation case consultations. Our attorneys will happily answer any questions you have about your case. Call us tollfree (888) 845-9696.