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What types of damages can I recover in a personal injury case?

Most or all of your damages will be Compensatory damages. As the name implies, these damages are meant to compensate you for your loss. Compensatory damages are also known as actual damages because they refer to damages that you actually suffered. Compensatory damages are further broken down into two categories: economic and noneconomic damages. You might also hear these categories referred to as special and general damages, respectively. Economic, or special damages, include financial costs you suffered from the accident, such as property damage, all your medical bills, and any lost wages or lost income if you missed work because of the accident or can no longer work at the same job due to your injury. Noneconomic, or general damages, refer to other harm that does not have a specific financial cost but is nevertheless compensable as part of your personal injury. “Pain and suffering” is the main type of noneconomic damages awarded, although this category may include related harm such as emotional distress, mental anguish, or loss in quality of life.

Another type of damages that might be award is punitive damages. These damages are meant to punish the defendant for especially bad conduct, as opposed to damages meant to compensate the injury victim. Punitive damages are also called exemplary damages, as they serve as an example to others of the kind of conduct that society will not tolerate. Under California Civil Code 3294, punitive damages may be granted in a personal injury case involving “oppression, fraud, or malice.” These terms encompass intentional conduct or acting with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others, or concealment of a material fact that causes injury. Think extreme recklessness as opposed to ordinary negligence. Examples may include an exceedingly drunk driver or drag racer, or a property owner who covers up a hole in the floor with carpet or deliberately sets a trap to injure trespassers.

Punitive damages must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a higher standard than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard required to prove ordinary negligence. Although proving punitive damages requires more effort, our personal injury lawyers always put in the extra work to obtain punitive damages in appropriate cases.

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