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What Are Non-Economic Damages?

Dealing with a personal injury can take a serious emotional and financial toll on a victim and their family. Following a serious accident, you need monetary support to cover your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. In California, you have the right to recover compensation for both economic and non-economic damages from the at-fault party.

You may be wondering: How are non-economic damages defined in California? The short answer is that non-economic damages are “subjective, non-monetary losses” related to the accident. In this article, our San Francisco personal injury attorneys provide a more comprehensive overview of the most important things to know about non-economic damages in California.

What are the Three Types of Damages?

The three basic categories of damages are economic, non-economic, and punitive. Economic damages are your actual quantifiable losses: Anything that can be put on a bill. Your medical expenses are economic damages (even if your insurance paid them). Your lost wages are economic damages. Property loss can constitute economic damages. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are intangible losses. By definition, non-economic damages are somewhat difficult to put a precise dollar figure on. Sadly, corporations and insurance companies frequently try to undervalue these damages. Punitive damages are penalty damages that, while awarded to the plaintiff, are meant to punish the defendant.

How Do You Prove Non-Economic Damages?

Non-economic damages are no less real or no less compensable than out-of-pocket economic losses. You have a right to pursue financial recovery for economic losses. Further, these intangible damages are defined relatively broadly in California. Under California Civil Code § 1431.2, non-economic damages include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Inconvenience
  • Mental suffering
  • Emotional distress

How exactly these damages are calculated in practice can be a bit complicated. The Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2020 edition) explains there is “no fixed standard” for calculating these damages and that juries must “use common sense” to determine the appropriate personal injury award. Courts will take a very close look at the evidence presented to come to a proper decision. Any good Plaintiff’s attorney will know how to communicate your non-economic damages to the jury and ensure you are justly compensated. It is important to understand that “non-economic” damages can be the most devastating damages and a result of the event or accident at issue in the case. Non-economic damages can also be called general damages: these damages constitute harm to the person, not just the purse.

Are Punitive Damages Non-Economic Damages?

Punitive damages are not the same thing as non-economic damages. In California, courts have limited discretion to impose punitive civil penalties against the at-fault party. Awarded in a small number of personal injury claims, punitive damages are designed to punish the extremely reckless conduct of the defendant.

Does California Have a Cap on Non-Economic Damages?

There is no general cap on non-economic damages in California. However, there is an exception for medical malpractice. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, your non-economic damages are capped. In other personal injury claims, there is no statutory cap.

Call Our San Francisco Personal Injury Lawyers for Immediate Legal Help

At Bracamontes & Vlasak, our top-rated California personal injury attorneys fight aggressively to protect the rights of people harmed by negligence. If you have any questions about non-economic damages and your personal injury claims in general, we are more than ready to help. Contact us right away to arrange your free, no-obligation personal injury consultation. We represent clients throughout the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including in Berkeley, Daly City, Oakland, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, and Mountain View.

Non-Economic Damages