When a person is injured in California due to the negligent or careless acts of an individual or company, the injury victim (called the “plaintiff”) may have a cause of action, or legal justification, to sue the negligent party (called the “defendant”).  If the plaintiff’s Ventura personal injury lawyer can show that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s actions, and the lawsuit is successful, the jury will award compensation to the plaintiff.  But what types of costs and expenses are compensated in a personal injury lawsuit?  Is compensation available for mental anguish?  And are there any limits on how much compensation is available in a California personal injury case?

What Are Special Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

In the context of personal injury law, the term “damages” is another word for compensation.  For example, a jury might award punitive damages depending on the circumstances under which the plaintiff’s accident occurred.
There are two basic types of damages in a personal injury case: the punitive damages we just mentioned (which will be explained in detail later on), and another category called “compensatory” damages.  They are called “compensatory” damages because their purpose is to compensate the plaintiff.

There are two types of compensatory damages in a California personal injury lawsuit: economic damages, which are also called “special” damages, and non-economic damages, which are sometimes called “general” damages.
As you might have guessed based on their names, economic or special damages try to compensate plaintiffs for financial or economic losses.  Some examples of economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit could include:

  • Burial and Funeral Expenses (Wrongful Death)
  • Lost Wages
  • Medical Bills
  • Property Damage

In addition to evaluating the plaintiff’s existing expenses and losses, the jury will also think about the injury’s anticipated future financial effects on the plaintiff, and attempt to determine an appropriate award accordingly.  For example, in a case where the plaintiff has sustained a disabling injury as the result of a dog bite, a defective product, or a slip and fall accident, the jury will evaluate how the plaintiff’s ability to earn income will be impacted in the months and years to come, while also considering the costs associated with long-term rehabilitation, such as in-home care and medical equipment.  Therefore, factors like the plaintiff’s age, occupation, income level, and how seriously he or she was injured all play an important role in the calculation of economic damages.

Can You Sue for Pain and Suffering in California?

In comparison to the economic damages we were just discussing, non-economic or general damages try to compensate plaintiffs for losses of a non-financial nature.  Though they are more difficult to quantify or assess than economic damages, these non-financial losses – such as physical pain and emotional hardships like grief, depression, and anxiety – are often the most debilitating for the victim.
Fortunately, state law generally permits injury victims to sue for non-economic damages in a personal injury case.  Examples of non-economic or general damages include:

  • Loss of Consortium (Loss of Companionship, Support, Spousal Relationship)
  • Mental Anguish
  • Pain and Suffering

Can You Get Punitive Damages for Negligence?

As you might recall, we earlier mentioned punitive damages as a contrast to compensatory damages.  That is because unlike compensatory damages, which are simply there to help compensate the plaintiff’s losses, punitive damages are actually designed to go a step further and punish the defendant, hence the term “punitive.”

For this reason, punitive damages are not always available in personal injury cases, even when the plaintiff prevails.  California’s civil (non-criminal) jury instructions explicitly state that jurors may award punitive damages only if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant “acted with malice, oppression, or fraud.”

Is There a Cap on Medical Malpractice in California?

On a final note, it’s important to point out that California, like many states, restricts compensation specifically in medical malpractice cases.  These restrictions, which are called “damage caps” or “damages caps,” limit the recovery of non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, to $250,000.  However, there is no cap on economic damages, such as medical bills, in medical malpractice cases.  A Ventura medical malpractice attorney can help you understand how California’s malpractice caps may affect your case.
We know all these legal terms can seem a little confusing, so in summation, here is a quick overview to help you remember the different types of damages in a California personal injury case:

  1. Punitive Damages – Meant to punish defendants.
  2. Compensatory Damages – Meant to compensate plaintiffs. Compensatory damages include:
    • Economic Damages (Special Damages) – Compensation for financial losses, like medical bills.
    • Non-Economic Damages (General Damages) – Compensation for non-financial losses, like pain and suffering.

Don’t worry about remembering these terms if you’re still having a little trouble – your birth injury attorney will be there to answer your questions throughout each phase of your case.

Ventura Personal Injury Lawyers in Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, and Simi Valley

If you or a family member was injured in Ventura County or Santa Barbara County, financial compensation may be available depending on how your injury occurred.  A California truck accident lawyer at The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC have more than 22 years of experience handling many different types of personal injury claims in Ventura, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Camarillo, Lompoc, Goleta, Orcutt, Carpinteria, Isla Vista, and other communities throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
For a free legal consultation, contact our law offices right away at (805) 643-5555.  We will keep your information confidential.