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Recovery in a Personal Injury Case: General and Punitive Damages

Gavel and Black BookIn personal injury cases, money damages are used to restore the victim, as nearly as possible, to the state he or she was in before the accident occurred. There are several types of damages in California. Special damages reimburse the victim for expenses that he or she has incurred as a result of the accident, such as lost wages, medical expenses, or property damage. General damages compensate the victim for intangible losses, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages are designed to punish the party at fault and are rarely awarded in a personal injury case.

General Damages

General, or noneconomic, damages are intended to compensate the victim for intangible losses, which cannot be quantified by referring to bills, receipts, etc., that result from the accident. A common type of noneconomic damages is compensation for pain and suffering. A victim may be compensated for any pain occurring during the accident or any ongoing pain resulting from the accident. Damages for emotional distress compensate the victim for psychological trauma associated with the injury.

Loss of services and loss of consortium relate to the harm that the accident has caused to the injured person’s relationships with family. For example, a spouse may recover damages for loss of consortium to compensate him or her for the loss of companionship, of affection, or of a sexual relationship. These types of damages are especially common in wrongful death cases.

General damages can be vague, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine an exact amount. If a case goes to trial, the jury determines the appropriate amount of the general damages award. If the parties decide to settle, they will have to agree on an amount.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are not intended to compensate the victim, but rather are designed to punish the wrongdoer. Punitive damages are not available in most personal injury cases. They may be awarded when the wrongdoer’s conduct is particularly egregious and if the damage award can make an example of the wrongdoer and act as a deterrent against future misconduct.

An award of punitive damages usually requires some purposeful action on the part of the wrongdoer, rather than mere negligence. California’s Civil Code provides that punitive damages are available only in the event of oppression, fraud, or malice. Those acts of oppression, fraud, or malice must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is a higher standard than the preponderance of the evidence, which is the standard used for most issues in a personal injury case.

An experienced attorney’s counsel can help you to understand damage awards in California and help to ensure that justice is done. If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident or intentionally, please contact the San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free consultation today at (408) 289-1417.

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