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California Car Accident Pain & Suffering Damages

UPDATED: July 11, 2018

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Under California law, “damages” are defined as the amount of money that is awarded to compensate someone who has been harmed by another’s wrongdoing or negligence. Whether you are negotiating your car accident case with an insurance company or fighting it out in court, it all comes down to damages. How much are you owed (or do you have to pay?) as a result of the accident?

There are two broad categories of damages available: Economic and Non-Economic. Damages for pain and suffering fall into the non-economic category and are often the most controversial part of any auto accident case, partly because they are not easily defined or quantified, and partly because they can make up a very substantial part of any injured party’s overall recovery. Following is a break-down of the types of harm covered under economic and non-economic damages:

In auto accident cases, economic damages may include:

  • Medical expenses – past and future
  • Lost wages – past and future
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Loss of ability to provide household services
  • Damage to real property (i.e., a car hits a house)
  • Loss of use of real property
  • Damage to personal property (your car, for example)
  • Loss or destruction of personal property
  • Damage to personal property having a special value (i.e., family photos)
  • Loss of use of personal property
  • Lost profits

Non-economic damages may include:

  • Physical pain
  • Mental suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium (loss of spousal companionship and services)

California operates under a “tort liability system” that governs how pain and suffering claims are to be litigated. In short, the tort liability system allows the jury to decide, exclusively, the amount of damages to be paid to someone for car accident injuries. There are no restrictions on who can or cannot sue for personal injury damages. The jury looks at the amount of money the plaintiff is requesting for each item of harm and decides if that amount is reasonable. To see how juries go about this task, see How do insurance companies and juries assign values to pain and suffering? Before it goes into deliberation, the jury receives instructions from the court (see Resources below) about the laws governing each decision the jury needs to make.


Document Your Pain and Suffering Claim (Checklist): A checklist that helps you document your economic and non-economic damages. An invaluable tool to record and prove how much your pain and suffering claim is worth.

California Jury Instructions for Non-Economic Damages: Jury instructions are given to jurors before they enter into deliberation in the jury room. The instructions are designed to help jurors understand the laws applicable to the case for which they are sitting. Sections 3905, 3905A, and 3920 of this document cover instructions for non-economic damages.

California Jury Instructions for Economic Damages: Sections 3903A through 3903N of this documents cover instructions for economic damages.

Free Advice Auto Insurance Center: Articles, FAQs, free quotes and research links.

Back to California Car Accident Resources and Statutes.

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