Personal injury cases can be complicated, especially in California. Certain state laws can have a big impact on any personal injury settlement or lawsuit after an accident. Understanding these laws can help you better navigate this difficult process. Since this process is so complicated, we highly recommend hiring a personal injury attorney. Below is some information you need to know about personal injury cases in California. 

What Is a Personal Injury Claim?

A personal injury claim is a type of civil lawsuit filed when a person experiences harm or loss resulting from an emotional, physical, or psychological injury. In the state of California, an individual can be held liable for causes of harm to someone either intentionally or negligently. Some examples of personal injury cases include:

  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Motor accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Wrongful death
  • Premise liability

In these cases, the injured party might be able to sue another person or entity for damages if they’re able to prove the accused party is responsible for causing the injury. 

How Does the Personal Injury Case System Work in California?

California is a state that follows what’s called the comparative fault system. If the plaintiff is responsible for causing any part of the injury, the damages awarded would be reduced by the percentage accredited to their portion of fault. For example, if you were to get in a car accident, and the court determined you were 30% at fault, you will receive 30% less than the amount of damages you would receive if you had been 0% at fault. 

As you can imagine, this can become quite complicated and nuanced. That’s why we strongly recommend hiring a personal injury attorney to ensure you get the damages you’re entitled to. Representing yourself can lead to mistakes that can cost you money in the long run. 

The Filing Deadline

Every state has its own designated statute of limitation laws. These laws give you a deadline to file your claim after you have sustained an injury. Depending on the seriousness of the case, the statute of limitation in California is two (2) years from the date of the incident. It can also be two years from the date that an injury is discovered. 

If you fail to file your case before this two-year deadline, the court will likely refuse to hear your case. Therefore, you may lose your right to compensation. There are certain circumstances where the court can extend the deadline. 

What Types of Damages Can A Judge Award for a Personal Injury Case?

Most personal injury cases in California have a basis in tort law. These are civil cases where a claimant suffered loss or harm resulting in legal liability. Since these cases are rarely criminal, they are held between private parties. Here are some of the economic damages a judge could award in California:

  • Lost wages and future earnings
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Repair or replacement of property
  • Compensation for medical expenses 

Judges can also award non-economic damages. These damages are hard to quantify. Some common types of non-economic damages in California include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability or disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of reputation

Punitive Damages for a Personal Injury Case

In extreme cases, a court can award punitive damages (also known as exemplary damages). These are damages that exceed the amount of actual damages issued to a plaintiff in a personal injury case. These damages are reserved for defendants whose behavior is considered to be appalling or shocking. Punitive damages are also used as a preventative measure to prevent reckless behavior in the future. 

In California, the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s actions constituted fraud, oppression, or malice to be eligible for punitive damages. It is difficult to satisfy the standard for punitive damages. Unlike other states, there is no cap on punitive damages in California. However, the damages awarded must be reasonably related to the amount of damages in personal injury cases.  

Common Defenses used in a Personal Injury Case

Knowing the defense tactics employees by defendants can help you in your case. There are several different defenses available to a defendant getting sued for a personal injury claim. Some common defenses include:

  • The two-year statute of limitations has expired
  • The accused did not breach a duty of care
  • The plaintiff was aware of the risk of harm
  • The plaintiff was partially to blame for injuries sustained (remember, this only reduces damages)
  • The plaintiff does not have sufficient evidence

The burden of proof in civil cases, such as personal injury cases, is not as strict as the burden of proof required in criminal cases. 

In need of assistance for your potential personal injury claim in California? We can help.

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