Californians who have suffered a physical injury or lost a loved one in a motor vehicle accident may decide to investigate the possibility of bringing a lawsuit against the party whose negligence they believed caused the accident. One of the most common questions asked by these individuals is how much money they can recover. The answer to this question is not simple; damages depend upon a number of factors that may vary significantly from case to case. This post will attempt to provide a helpful summary of the most common factors that govern the amount of damages that a jury may award.
If a jury finds that the defendant’s negligence caused injury to the plaintiff, the jury must next determine how much money will reasonably compensate the plaintiff for the damages caused by the defendant. Damages generally fall into two categories: economic loss and non-economic loss. Economic loss includes such items as medical expenses, lost income and future lost income. Non-economic loss includes items such as pain and suffering and loss of the companionship of a spouse. A successful plaintiff is entitled to be reimbursed for every item of loss that has been suffered, but the total amount of damages must be reasonable.
Medical expenses fall into two categories: past and future. The plaintiff is entitled to recover compensation for all medical expenses paid to health care givers up to the time of trial. These expenses can include physician fees, operating room charges, diagnostic charges for x-rays, MRI scans and CT scans. These expenses are usually proved by entering invoices from the health care providers into evidence. Future medical expenses are usually proved through the expert testimony of one or more experts who can describe both the care that the plaintiff may require and the cost of such care. In some cases, the medical care is complete before the trial begins, and no future medical expenses can be awarded; in other cases, the plaintiff may require medical care for the rest of their lives and is entitled to compensation for such care.
Like medical expenses, lost earnings fall into the categories of past and future. Past earnings are the amount of income that the plaintiff lost because injuries received in the accident disabled the plaintiff. Future lost earnings depends upon the extent to which the plaintiff’s earnings will be reduced by the injuries suffered in the accident. In making both determinations, the jury must determine the reasonable amount of plaintiff’s losses.
Damages can also be awarded for lost profits if the plaintiff was unable to operate a business, for damage to real and personal property and for the injury to a spouse who was unable to assist in household maintenance. Any award of future damages must be reduced to present cash value. Present cash value represents the amount of money invested today that will return the specified principal amount in the future.
Non-economic damages can include physical pain, mental suffering and emotional distress. The spouse of the injured plaintiff is entitled to recover an amount of money that will reasonably compensate him/her for the loss of the spouse’s companionship and services.
Before commencing a lawsuit to recover damages for a personal injury, the prospective plaintiff may wish to review the case with a capable personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can review the potential recovery for damages and provide an estimate of the likelihood of recovering a significant portion of the damages discussed above.