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Determining damages in California car accident cases

This blog regularly encourages readers to contact an attorney if they have been injured or lost a loved one in an automobile accident. One of the chief reasons for seeking legal advice in such cases is to determine the amount of damages that can be recovered. In this post, we intend to summarize the types of damages that can be recovered from a party who is found to be at fault in causing an automobile accident.

The first category of damages comprises economic losses, which are essentially medical expenses and lost income. Medical expenses are broken into two-subcategories - past medical expenses and future medical expenses. The former group consists of medical expenses that have in fact been incurred prior to trial. The second category consists of medical expenses that the injured person can reasonably be expected to incur in the future. An example would be physical therapy for a person suffering debilitating injury to his or her legs.

As with medical expenses, lost income is the amount of earnings that the plaintiff has lost up to the date of trial, and future lost income is the income that the plaintiff can be reasonably certain to lose in the future as the result of the accident. Economic losses also include damages to real and personal property, but such damages are rarely significant unless unique property, such as a work of art, is involved.

Noneconomic damages are commonly known as pain and suffering. Damages for pain and suffering can vary greatly from case to case depending upon the plaintiff's family and professional situations, but such damages are based upon actual suffering experienced by the plaintiff prior to trial and any suffering that is reasonably certain to occur in the future. The suffering can consist of physical or emotional pain or both.

An experienced personal injury attorney can help translate these abstract concepts into an estimate of actual dollars that can be recovered for each element of damages.

Source: Justitia, "California Civil Jury Instructions," accessed on Nov. 21, 2015

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