How to Recover "Compensatory Damages" in a California Personal Injury Case

Compensatory damages compensate a plaintiff for losses in a California personal injury case. They contrast with punitive damages, which punish the defendant and discourage others from similar behavior.

In California, compensatory damages for an accident or injury fall into two basic categories:

To help you better understand how to recover compensatory damages in a California personal injury case, our California personal injury lawyers discuss, below:

1. Economic damages in a personal injury case

A plaintiff's “economic damages” are those to which a dollar amount can readily be attached. They are intended to cover "out-of-pocket" amounts the plaintiff has actually spent or will be required to spend in the future.

Economic losses often include (but are not limited to):

2. Non-economic damages in a personal injury case

Non-economic damages are those which don't necessarily involve out-of-pocket expenses. They include more subjective losses such as:

  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional distress,
  • Physical impairment (such as loss of the use of a limb or organ),
  • Disfigurement, 
  • Inconvenience, and
  • Loss of life enjoyment.

3. Are there damage caps in California personal injury cases?

In general, California places no cap on compensatory damages in a personal injury case. The jury (or, in a bench trial, the judge) can award any fair and reasonable sum.

Medical malpractice cases are an exception, however.

In a California medical malpractice case, there is a cap of $250,000 on pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.1

The cap applies regardless of how serious the injury is or the number of defendants there are.

The California Supreme Court has upheld this cap as constitutional.

But there may be other legal theories on which a plaintiff can sue (such as breach of contract, battery, or violation of California's products liability laws).

For more information on proving compensatory damages in California, we invite you to browse our articles on each specific type of damage.

Injured in California? Call us for help…

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Call us anytime at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident or as the result of someone else's negligence or other wrongful act, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Call us at (855) LAWFIRM to discuss your case with an experienced California injury lawyer.

If you were in an accident in Nevada, you may also wish to read our article on "Compensatory Damages in Nevada." In Colorado, see our page on "Compensatory Damages in Colorado".


Legal references:

  1. California Civil Code 3333.2(b).
  2. Fein v. Permanente Medical Group (1985) 38 Cal.3d 137

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