Understanding the Difference Between Economic and Non-Economic Damages
Personal injury is a legal term that refers to an injury of the body, mind, or emotions; it does not include property damages. A personal injury award can consist of either economic or non-economic damages in the total settlement calculation.
Financial damages are measurable and objectively verifiable, while non-financial damages are subjective non-monetary losses. You may receive either type of award if you were injured by substandard healthcare or injured in a car accident, but non-monetary damages are capped to ensure they do not grow excessively.
Compensatory Damages in California Law
Compensatory damages are awards you can receive to recover financial losses or other costs directly related to your injury. These can include measurable expenses that can be added up and non-measurable losses.
Here’s a breakdown of potential sources:
- Medical treatment: Most awards include the cost of medical care, including both what you’ve already spent and what you anticipate spending in the future. Your California personal injury attorney will work with doctors, actuaries, and accountants to determine what your future medical needs will include and how much it will cost. For example, a brain injury often includes expensive ongoing medical care.
- Income: You may also claim lost wages and salary after a delivery accident or any other catastrophic injury. This claim includes the time you needed to take off work following the accident and a reduction in wages if you had to change jobs. Finally, you can claim a loss of earning capacity, which is the difference between what you would have made in your life if you hadn’t been injured and what you will make now.
- Property loss: If you’re filing a lawsuit because you got into an RV accident, you can claim the cost of repairing or replacing your RV under property loss. You would be entitled to the fair market value of any property lost in the injury, such as any belongings or your home after a fire.
- Emotional distress: These damages compensate you for non-physical effects, such as any new anxiety, sleep disturbances, fear, or similar conditions incurred as a result of your injury.
- Loss of enjoyment: You may be able to feed and dress yourself, but if you’re unable to enjoy your time like you used to, you may be entitled to additional compensation. For example, if you’re an artist who cannot hold a pen for long periods after a brain injury, you could claim a loss of enjoyment.
- Loss of consortium: Finally, an inability to provide affection, companionship, love, or comfort may indicate room for a loss of consortium claim.
Economic damages, also known as “specific” or monetary damages, compensate a plaintiff for actual losses that can be identified and measured. These damages can include reimbursement for expenses paid for out of pocket following an injury. Examples include:
- Lost earnings
- Costs associated with fixing or replacing damaged property, such as a bus or RV
- Lost business opportunities due to injuries sustained
- Compensation for past and future medical expenses
- Damages caused to your property as a result of the injury, such as fire damage
In most personal injury claims, the majority of damages awarded consist of compensation for medical expenses, including ambulance bills, cost of medication, hospital bills, and therapy bills for mental and emotional issues that arise due to the injury.
Monetary damages are determined by adding together actual amounts spent according to documents like hospital invoices and pharmacy receipts. Additional costs may be considered as well, such as invoices for damages your vehicle incurred, but any evidence must be measurable to be included.
Many cases also require expert witness testimony from someone who can determine the financial extent of the damages. These witnesses are especially vital when it comes to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death cases; they must also prove fault or liability in addition to damages incurred. For example, suppose you file a medical malpractice suit. In that case, your attorney will almost certainly need an expert witness in the medical field to demonstrate that your doctor failed to abide by the standard of care. Not only that, but your witness will also need to take all of the complex facts of your medical case and determine whether the physician is liable for your injury.
Economic damages aren’t always available in every lawsuit. Certain jurisdictions state that comparative or contributory negligence can reduce or limit how much you receive in monetary damages. For example, if you were speeding before your car accident, this can impact your settlement.
Non-economic damages, also known as “general” damages, are not so easily measured. You cannot use documented bills and receipts to calculate a sum to work with. These general damages compensate for non-monetary losses that aren’t readily quantifiable, which can include:
- Emotional distress
- Physical impairment
- Pain and suffering
- Disability or disfigurement
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Losses related to reputation
- The injury itself
These types of damages are significantly subjective, so they vary from case to case. Additionally, because they’re naturally challenging to calculate objectively, general damages are usually subject to strict guidelines governed by individual jurisdictions. Get in touch with one of our top injury lawyers to schedule a free consultation to learn more about the options in your case.
Certain states only reward you with general damages based on proof of financially-measurable damages. These damages are then calculated based on a formula concerning the monetary damages and ultimately subject to a statutory cap. A California personal injury attorney can help you navigate these tricky waters.
There are also certain federal limits in place for general damages. Under federal law, these damages must be reasonable; they cannot be significantly high compared to what you’re awarded for specific injuries. In other words, you can’t get more money for emotional distress than you do for lost earnings.
For example, if you get into a car accident and your monetary damages add up to $10,000, you probably won’t get more than $100,000 for general damages; these non-specific claims are often limited to 10 times the amount given for monetary claims.
Finally, any imaginary damages invented by a plaintiff will receive no compensation. Furthermore, there is a greater chance that you’ll receive compensation for a particular claim if there is physical evidence of its presence due to the injury, such as a stomach ulcer caused by the stress of dealing with the accident.
When to File a Lawsuit
To sue someone in California, you must ensure you have the right to sue your intended defendant. To make an injury claim, you usually must be able to prove that the person you’re filing against was negligent and that this negligence resulted in your injury.
Under California law, the burden of proving damages and fault is placed on the person filing the claim. If your lawsuit makes it to trial, the legal standard that you must confirm your case is based on evidence, which means you need to prove that it’s more likely than not what you are alleging is true regarding your injuries and the defendant’s liability. Most cases will not go to trial or the verdict stage, but it still helps to assume that it will when you assess the strength of your injury claim.
Remember that you don’t have as long as you want to file a lawsuit. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 3351, there is a statute of limitations on all such claims, specifying how long you have to file a lawsuit following an incident. In California, that time limit is two years from the date of the accident; in other words, the two-year countdown begins the moment you have your accident.
If you don’t file a claim in two years, you may lose your right to sue and obtain financial compensation. The law can also vary when you file a lawsuit against the government; the statute of limitations is usually shorter in these situations. To get the most accurate information specific to your case, it’s a good idea to discuss your options with a personal injury attorney right away.
Seek a California Personal Injury Attorney Today
Filing a personal injury claim can be a confusing experience. If you miss just one detail, you could miss out on receiving the compensation you need to cover your lost wages or expensive medical bills. Therefore, it’s essential to reach out and speak with a personal injury attorney experienced in California law. At JT Legal Group, your case is always handled by a top professional knowledgeable in the complete California personal injury code. Request a free consultation with one of our leading attorneys today.