What Damages Could I Get if I’m Injured in a California Car Accident?
If you’ve been injured in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, it’s only natural that you have questions about the type of damages you might expect to recover in a personal injury lawsuit. If you were seriously injured, you may be facing a number of challenges, including:
• Pain and physical limitations
• Financial difficulties due to lost work time
• Large medical bills
• A need for continuing medical care or rehabilitation
It can be difficult to get back on your feet after a traumatic injury, and the stress of lost work time combined with mounting medical bills can be overwhelming. Those difficulties are magnified when you’ve suffered permanent injuries and are facing long-term limitations. It’s only fair that you should receive compensation to help you recover and rebuild.
Common Damages in Car Accident Cases
Every case is different. The damages a person is entitled to after being injured in a car accident depend on a number of factors, including:
• The severity and duration of the injury
• The age of the injury victim
• Actual expenses such as medical bills and costs of nursing care
• Change in earning capacity
• Intangible losses such as diminishment in quality of life
Some of the most common types of damages awarded are:
A party who is liable for injuries sustained in a car accident may be responsible for medical expenses necessitated by the injury, including projected long-term medical costs, costs of medical equipment or residential care, medications, physical therapy and other medical expenses.
While medical expenses may seem simple to add up, expert witnesses are often required to resolve issues such as:
• The degree to which medical expenses are attributable to injuries sustained in the car accident
• The projected duration of the injury and need for continued treatment
• The anticipated cost of future treatment
Lost Income and Earning Capacity
When an injury is relatively short-term, or clearly time-limited, determining lost income can be as simple as calculating the wages the injured party would have received had his or her employment not been interrupted by the car accident.
However, loss of future earning capacity is far more complicated, especially when the injury victim is relatively young and has not yet established his or her professional potential. In addition, lost future earnings must be adjusted for anticipated inflation over what would have been the victim’s productive lifetime.
Economic experts are often employed to project lost earning potential and assist in constructing a settlement structure that will adequately compensate the injured party and provide long-term support.
Medical expenses, lost income, and property damage are classified as “economic damages,” because they are quantifiable losses. However, many people who suffer sustain serious injuries in a car accident also suffer intangible losses. This type of compensation typically takes into account damages such as:
• Physical pain
• Loss of mobility
You may also be entitled to compensation based on loss of enjoyment of life and inability to play your previous or anticipated role in your family.
For example, a person who ran marathons, climbed mountains, was an avid snowboarder, or even a hobbyist nature photographer may be entitled to compensation if an injury renders him unable to pursue those activities. Similarly, a mother who coached her child’s soccer team or was the go-to driver for her children and their friends and can no longer fulfill those roles may be entitled to compensation.
In some cases, family members may also be entitled to compensation for the loss of services or support an injured family member is no longer able to provide. Some examples include compensation for additional duties a spouse must take on after his or her partner is disabled in a car accident, loss of emotional support and advise previously offered by a spouse who has sustained a traumatic brain injury or other personality-altering or mentally-disabling injury, or loss of guidance and support from an injured parent.
Proving Liability and Damages in a Car Accident Case
The damages available in a car accident case vary based on the nature of the injury, age of the injured person and other factors described above. But, those are not the only factors impacting the amount of damages a car accident victim can expect. The amount of damages available also depends on factors such as:
• The degree of fault attributable to each party
• The amount of insurance coverage or other resources available to pay damages
• The strength of the evidence demonstrating both liability and damages
• Statements made by the injured party and other witnesses
• Choices made by the plaintiff and the personal injury lawyer handling the case
Comparative Fault in Determining California Car Accident Damages
In car accident cases, it is not unusual for two or more parties to share responsibility for a car accident. For example, a car may run a red light and be hit by another car. The driver who ran the red light was almost certainly negligent, but he may not be entirely responsible for the accident. Perhaps the driver who hit him was speeding, and would have been able to avoid the collision if he’d been driving at an appropriate speed.
Under California law, responsibility for damages is divided among responsible parties in proportion to their fault. If, a jury in the case described above determined that the driver who ran the red light was 75% responsible for the accident, then that driver would be liable for 75% of the resulting damages.
Establishing Damages in a Car Accident Case
Establishing damages in a car accident case is not as simple as producing medical records and bills. Where significant damages are involved, the insurance company’s attorneys may seek to prove that some of the medical care provided was not necessary, or that some medical conditions attributed to the accident were pre-existing or are attributable to another event. Insurance company lawyers may argue that the injured party aggravated his or her own injuries, by ignoring medical advice, failing to pursue follow-up care, or neglecting rehabilitation. And, they will very likely challenge the duration and/ or cost of anticipated medical care associated with an injury that is projected to be long-term or permanent.
One trick insurance companies employ when ongoing medical care is a possibility is to encourage the injured party to sign a quick settlement agreement. While the insurance company representative will often present this as an opportunity to get money to the injured party quickly, it is frequently a manipulation intended to secure a release that lets the insurance company off the hook for future medical bills or damages not yet quantified.
Working with an experienced car accident attorney from the beginning protects against insurance company manipulation and puts the establishment of damages in the hands of a seasoned professional with access to experts.
Avoiding Missteps in a Car Accident Case
Often, innocent mistakes an injured person makes in the aftermath of an accident can have a significant impact on damages awarded. What you may view as small talk or polite conversation may be taken out of context and used against you. Social media posts may come back to haunt you. When you’re involved in significant litigation, it’s important that you know how to protect yourself and your claim.
Talk to an Experienced California Car Accident Attorney as Soon as Possible
Right after a car accident, your first priority will and should be recovering from your physical injuries and receiving medical care. However, protecting your right to recover for your injuries may have just as significant an impact on your long-term well-being and your ability to provide for your family.
Connecting with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after your injury can help you avoid costly mistakes and give the attorney the best possible opportunity to build a strong case for damages.