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Personal Injury

How are losses in catastrophic injury cases calculated in California?

By July 26, 2021May 26th, 2022No Comments

 The last thing you should have to worry about while trying to heal from a serious injury is if you are getting the compensation you deserve.

In California, serious injuries with life-changing consequences are known as “catastrophic injuries.” Victims of these injuries are entitled to compensation that fully makes up for every way their injuries have affected–and will affect–their lives.

At Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, we have a combined 150 years of experience helping victims of catastrophic injuries, so we know how a catastrophic injury can completely upend not only the life of the injured person, but the lives of their family as well.

But how are damages after a catastrophic injury calculated?

What are Catastrophic injuries?

There is no universal definition for a catastrophic injury, but the defining feature of a catastrophic injury is that the injury has long-term consequences that will affect the victim’s life in a significant way.

Catastrophic injuries often  bring costly medical bills, missed work, emotional distress, pain, and loss of ability.  Calculating the full extent of damages in a catastrophic injury case can be complicated and nuanced. 

For those reasons, having a skilled and experienced advocate can make the difference between compensation that allows an injured person to move forward with their life and inadequate compensation that doesn’t fully or fairly make up for the harm that was done.

 The most common types of catastrophic injuries we see include:

Calculating damages

1. Establishing liability

In California, before an injured person is entitled to damages, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was liable (responsible) for causing their injury. 

If liability cannot be proven, no damages can be recovered regardless of how serious or significant the injuries are.  Liability is sometimes obvious–but in many cases proving who was at fault and why can be complex. 

This is more often the case in catastrophic injury cases because at-fault defendants or their insurance carriers faced with significant damages claims will try to avoid responsibility.  For that reason, having an experienced team of lawyers can be invaluable.

After liability is proven, the next step is determining what damages are owed.  In most cases, an injured plaintiff is entitled to compensatory damages. 

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff of a lawsuit with enough money to fully cover the actual value of the injury or loss. There are two basic types of compensatory damages, special damages and general damages.

2. Special Damages

Special damages are the money damages that pay for the amount necessary to replace what was lost or spent because of an injury. 

Special damages can include:

  • Medical and hospital bills
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Physical therapy
  • Ambulance expenses
  • Medications
  • Medical treatments and care that will be needed in the future
  • Nursing home care
  • Domestic services
  • Medical equipment
  • Lost wages or lost employment income
  • Property replacement or repair
  • Transportation

3. General damages

In contrast to special damages, general damages repay a victim for the intangible losses he or she suffered because of the defendant’s actions.

General damages include estimates of loss related to an injury that do not not involving actual monetary expenditure such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Physical impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of companionship (in the case of a wrongful death suit)
  • Emotional trauma or mental anguish
  • Loss of quality of life

There is no formula to calculate general damages. Every case is unique. 

Ultimately, the amount of general damages is up to the jury to decide–which is why having an experienced and skilled advocate can make the difference between an adequate and inadequate recovery.

The jury will review the facts of the case and award an amount they decide is reasonable for the plaintiff.

4. Punitive damages

In cases where the defendant acted with extreme recklessness or deliberate harm, the court may award the plaintiff “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their reckless behavior and are awarded on top of compensatory damages. 

Contact an attorney to sue for catastrophic injury damages

Catastrophic injury cases are as complex and benefit from the assistance of skilled and experienced attorneys.  

At Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, we have won over $600 million for our clients in personal injury cases. We specialize in helping victims of serious and catastrophic injuries, and we approach each case with compassion and an attention to detail so each of our clients get the  compensation they deserve.

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