What Damages Can You Recover In a Personal Injury Case?

October 18th, 2022 by
bright blue keycap with damages claim text

In a personal injury case, damages are monetary compensation awarded to a plaintiff for the harm caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct. 

There are three basic categories of damages in California: 

  • Economic
  • Noneconomic
  • Punitive damages 

Damages awarded to a plaintiff must be “reasonable.” What types of damages can you recover in your personal injury case in California? Let’s see what kind of damages we can get from all of those nasty defendants.

The following are common types of damages that a plaintiff can recover in a personal injury case in California:

1. Medical Expenses

Medical expense damages include recovery of money that has been paid for your medical treatment. The reasonable cost of reasonably necessary medical care can be recovered. These costs can include care and services provided by physicians, hospitals, paramedics, chiropractors, nurses, physical therapists, home health care, and other medical providers. The costs of medical equipment, prescription medication, and travel to medical appointments can also be recovered. If a plaintiff requires at-home care and assistance, expenses for such care is compensable for both medical professionals and time spent by family members providing care beyond what they normally would provide. These damages can include both past and future medical expenses.

Medical expense damages can include money that you pay directly out of your pocket to a medical provider. It also includes money paid by your health insurance carrier or other sources of insurance, such as medical payments coverage under your auto insurance. Some of your treatment might have also been paid for by a federal, state, or county health insurance program, such as Medicare, Medi-Cal, or a county hospital program. 

Bear in mind that if an insurance carrier or government program pays for your medical expenses, they will generally seek to recover a portion of their payments from your personal injury recovery through a reimbursement or lien claim.

2. Lost Earnings

Lost earnings damages are designed to compensate you for wages and other earnings that you lost because you missed work due to your injuries. Damages can also be recovered for lost bonuses, promotions, and other benefits, as well as time missed from work because of medical treatment. Interestingly, you can still recover lost earnings damages from the defendant even if your employer paid you under sick, vacation, or some other form of leave pay during your absence.

3. Lost Earning Capacity

Lost earning capacity damages, on the other hand, come into play where you will no longer have the same level of earning ability as a result of your injuries. Because of your injuries, you might not be able to perform the same job duties and responsibilities that you could before the accident, which causes you to earn less money in the future and may require a career change into a lower-paying profession.

4. Loss of Ability to Provide Household Services

Loss of ability to provide household services damages may be recoverable when the injured person is no longer able to provide the same household care and services to other family members. The plaintiff can recover the reasonable value of services that he or she would have been reasonably certain to provide to the household if the injury had not occurred.

5. Damage to Personal Property

Personal property damages can include a wide range of damage and destruction caused to your personal property, such as your vehicle being wrecked in an accident. The amount of recoverable property damage will usually be determined in one of two ways. If your vehicle was deemed to be a total loss, then you can recover the market value of your vehicle before the accident occurred. If your vehicle can be repaired for an amount less than the market value, then you can recover the reasonable cost of repairing the vehicle.

6. Loss of Use of Personal Property

Loss of use of personal property damages can be recovered in addition to property damage discussed above. Loss of use damages compensate you for the time that you were unable to use the damaged personal property, such as your vehicle. The amount of damages is determined by the reasonable cost to rent a similar vehicle for the period reasonably necessary to repair or replace the vehicle.

7. Physical Pain, Mental Suffering, and Emotional Distress

Damages for physical pain, mental suffering, and emotional distress are noneconomic damages that are designed to compensate personal injury victims for a broad range of problems that they have endured because of their injuries. These damages compensate victims for pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, physical impairment, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress.

This form of damages often comprises the largest component of recovery in a personal injury case. Both past and future pain, suffering and emotional distress can be recovered. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover a “reasonable” amount for these damages. The extent of a person’s physical injuries will have a great impact on the extent of pain and suffering damages that can be recovered.

8. Loss of Consortium

Loss of consortium damages may be recoverable by the spouse of a personal injury victim. This form of noneconomic damages is intended to compensate the spouse for the loss of companionship and services resulting from the victim’s injuries. This includes the loss of love, companionship, care, assistance, protection, affection, moral support, and sexual relations.

9. Punitive Damages

Where a defendant has been particularly nasty, by engaging in misconduct that rises to the level of “malice,” “oppression,” or “fraud,” the plaintiff may recover punitive damages. This form of damages is intended to punish the defendant and deter future misconduct. Because of the heightened level of viciousness required, punitive damages will not be available in most personal injury cases, such as your typical car accident case. In situations where punitive damages may be recovered, this can of course constitute a substantial element of recovery in a personal injury case.

If you have been injured in an accident, please feel free to contact our San Jose, California office at (408) 637-5413 to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss what damages could be recoverable in your case.

« »