When someone’s wrongful conduct causes a death, an injury, job loss, damage to property or other harm, you have a legal right to collect money damages. The Dolan Law Firm has recovered tens of millions of dollars for our clients.
The law divides damages into three categories: economic damages (often called special damages), noneconomic damages (often called general damages) and, in rare cases, punitive damages.
ECONOMIC DAMAGES are out-of-pocket losses, including:
- Medical expenses
- Wage loss/loss of income/loss of earning capacity
- Property damage
- Funeral expenses
- Rental car
- Household help
- Other expenses caused by the wrongful conduct
These damages are the easiest to calculate because you can obtain bills, receipts and estimates.
NONECONOMIC DAMAGES include pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, loss of use, humiliation, mental anguish, loss of love, support and companionship and emotional distress. These damages are more difficult to calculate and, many times, exceed the value of the economic damages.
They are called noneconomic damages because they do not represent out-of-pocket losses. Although they are called non-economic damages, money is paid to compensate people who have suffered these injuries.
There is no fixed standard or method of calculating these damages. They vary by individual and case and are often referred to as subjective damages because they differ according to each individual’s personal/subjective experience. The most significant factors involved in calculating the amount of an award in a personal injury action are the nature and severity of injuries as documented in the medical records.
The more evidence of injury in the medical documentation, such as X-rays and treatment notes, that corresponds with the symptoms expressed by the plaintiff, the greater the recovery generally. Likewise, in severe cases involving amputation, loss of use of a limb or severe disability, noneconomic damages can be in the multiple millions of dollars.
To recover these damages, a plaintiff must meet a burden of proof that he or she suffered these damages by competent evidence. This burden is a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. If the evidence is so evenly balanced that it does not tilt in the favor of the plaintiff, then it does not preponderate and the plaintiff is not entitled to recover the damages not proven.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES are damages that are awarded when the wrongdoer has acted in a way that is considered vile, contemptible and/or despicable to members of normal society. The conduct must be fraudulent, oppressive or malicious. Fraud is deceitful conduct designed to mislead someone.
People are oppressive and/or malicious under the law when they act unlawfully to deprive others of their legal rights or when they act in a conscious disregard of the rights and safety of another. These damages are in addition to the economic and noneconomic damages that are designed to make an injured party whole, as much as money can do so.
They are a penalty to discourage bad behavior. They must have some rational relation to the underlying economic and noneconomic damages. To recover these damages, you must meet a higher standard of proof, clear and convincing evidence.
IN EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION/HARASSMENT AND WRONGFUL TERMINATION MATTERS, ALL THE ABOVE DAMAGES ARE AVAILABLE under certain factual conditions. Economic damages often include back pay, future wage loss, loss of benefits and costs of counseling and/or health care, if any. Noneconomic damages include humiliation, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, grief and injury to reputation. The Dolan Law Firm has recovered tens of millions of dollars for our clients who have been caused emotional distress as the result of discrimination, harassment and/or wrongful termination.
IN MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE ACTIONS, DAMAGES ARE LIMITED.
In 1976, the California Medical Association (CMA), a doctors’ lobbying group, pressured the government to pass the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). This protected negligent doctors from paying for all of the injuries that they caused. It allowed the insurance companies to generate larger profits at the expense of injured parties. This law allows for full recovery of economic losses, but limits recovery of noneconomic damages to $250,000, no matter how serious the injury, even if it causes death or paralysis. Additionally, it reduced contingent attorneys’ fees, making it difficult to find a lawyer willing to take on these cases because of the time and expense involved.
If You Are Injured Driving a Car and Do Not Have Insurance on the Car
In California, if you are injured in an automobile collision and you are the driver of a car, your damages may be limited depending on whether there was insurance on the vehicle you were driving at the time of the collision. If you did not have insurance on the vehicle, you are entitled to recover only economic damages. You can’t recover noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering. If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is not covered by insurance, you are entitled to economic and noneconomic damages. The insurance companies helped pass this law ( Prop 213) in 1996 as part of a proposition designed to save them money by depriving people, injured through no fault of their own, of recovery because of their status as uninsured motorists. You should always make sure that you have insurance on your vehicles and that any vehicle you drive is insured.