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Understanding Personal Injury Law and Compensation

Personal injury law in California encompasses a broad spectrum of legal principles and procedures designed to protect individuals who have been harmed due to the negligence or wrongful actions of others. Whether it’s a car accident, dog bite, slip and fall, elder abuse, or any other incident causing injury, victims have the right to seek compensation for their damages under California law. Here is a primer on personal injury law in California to help you navigate this legal arena.

Negligence and Liability

The concept of negligence is central to a personal injury cause of action. Negligence occurs when someone fails to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm to another person. To establish liability in a personal injury case, the plaintiff – that is, the injured party  – must prove the following four elements:

  • Duty of Care: The defendant – that is, the person being sued – owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. For example, restaurant owners have a duty in most cases to keep their property free from hazards that are dangerous to their patrons.
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant breached this duty by acting negligently or failing to act when they should have. In the example of the restaurant owner, this could include failing to maintain stairways and railings. 
  • Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries. There must be a clear link between the defendant’s actions (or inactions) and the harm suffered by the plaintiff.
  • Damages: The plaintiff suffered actual damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage.

Types of Damages

In California, personal injury victims may be entitled to various types of damages which fall into the categories of economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. 

  • Medical Expenses: This includes costs related to hospitalization, surgery, medication, rehabilitation, and future medical care.
  • Lost Income: Victims can recover compensation for wages lost due to their injuries, including future earning capacity if they are unable to return to work.
  • Pain and Suffering: Non-economic damages for physical pain, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life caused by the injury.
  • Property Damage: Compensation for damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle or other property involved in the accident.
  • Punitive Damages: In cases involving egregious misconduct, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior in the future.

Economic damages are tangible and easy to count—medical expenses, lost work time, etc. Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, and loss of a spouse’s companionship, are intangible and more difficult to quantify. Non-economic damages frequently add up to three to five times as much as economic damages. There is no limit on non-economic damages except in medical malpractice cases, which has a $250,000 cap in California. 

Statute of Limitations

It’s crucial to be aware of the statute of limitations when filing a personal injury claim in California. The statute of limitations imposes a deadline for bringing legal action, beyond which the plaintiff may lose the right to sue. In California, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two years from the date of the injury or discovery of the injury. However, there are exceptions, such as cases against government entities, which have a shorter time frame for filing claims.

Comparative Fault

California follows a comparative fault system, meaning that even if the plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident, they can still recover damages, albeit reduced by their percentage of fault. For example, if a jury determines that the plaintiff was 20% at fault for a car accident, their total damages award would be reduced by 20%.

Steps to Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim

If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence or will misconduct in California, here are the general steps to take when pursuing a personal injury claim:

  • Seek Medical Attention: Your health and well-being are the top priority. Seek medical treatment for your injuries as soon as possible. Without medical evidence, it will be difficult to prove both causation and damages.
  • Gather Evidence: Collect evidence at the scene of the accident, including photographs, witness statements, and any relevant documents (such as medical records and accident reports).
  • Notify the Responsible Parties: Inform the negligent party (or their insurance company) of your intent to file a claim for damages.
  • Consult with a Santa Ana Personal Injury Attorney: An experienced attorney can assess your case, advise you on your legal options, and represent your interests throughout the claims process.
  • Negotiation and Settlement: Your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company or opposing party to reach a fair settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached, your case may proceed to trial.
  • Litigation: If your case goes to trial, your attorney will present evidence and arguments to the court, and a judge or jury will determine liability and damages.

Most of the time, neither the victim nor the defendant wants to go to trial. Trials are expensive, time-consuming, and risky. You never know for sure how a jury will look at your case. Consequently, most parties settle out of court through negotiation. However, Keep in mind that the terms of any settlement will reflect what the parties believe the result would be if the claim went to trial. 

Contact the Law Offices of Benjamin Arsenian, PC

Navigating the complexities of personal injury law in California can be challenging, especially when you’re dealing with the physical, emotional, and financial aftermath of an accident. However, understanding your rights and the legal process can empower you to pursue the compensation you deserve. Whether through negotiation or litigation, working with a skilled Santa Ana personal injury attorney can significantly improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome and moving forward with your life.

At the Law Office of Benjamin Arsenian PC, we have worked successfully with clients on their personal injury cases for decades. Contact us today.