Injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents can be devastating and can have long-term impacts on your life – not to mention the disruption to your work and social activities. Fortunately, under the law, various types of damages in auto accident cases are available to compensate you for your injuries in a partial attempt to make you whole.
In order to prove negligence in a motor vehicle accident, an injured plaintiff must prove that the defendant driver owed a duty to the plaintiff and to other drivers on the road, and that the defendant driver breached this duty, proximately resulting in the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.
Luckily for injured plaintiffs, California, unlike some other jurisdictions, does not follow the antiquated law of contributory negligence. Rather, California uses a pure comparative negligence standard in motor vehicle accident cases. This means that even if a plaintiff was slightly at fault for the motor vehicle accident, they can still recover damages proportionate to the defendant driver’s fault. For example, if the defendant driver was determined to be 75% at fault for the accident, and the injured plaintiff contributed to the accident 25%, the plaintiff is still entitled to recover 75% of the damages. In some jurisdictions, under those same circumstances, the injured plaintiff would not be entitled to recover anything.
Past, Present, and Future Medical Care
The plaintiff can receive compensation for past, present, and future medical care that is related to the injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff can also receive compensation for all medical and physical therapy bills that are determined to be related to the accident. In order to prove these types of damages, the plaintiff may introduce evidence of the medical records and bills or may introduce the testimony of an expert witness at trial. These experts are usually physicians or other health care providers, and their testimony can be helpful if the insurance company is disputing specific treatment or bills. Expert testimony may also be needed if there is a prognosis for future care. For example, a physician could make an estimate as to the likelihood, cost, and success of future medical care and procedures, such as surgeries.
An injured plaintiff can also recover lost wages for the time period when he or she is out of work recovering from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. This can include time missed from work for attending medical appointments, physical therapy appointments, or other types of medical treatment. In order to prove damages for lost wages, it is necessary for a health care provider to authorize the missed time from work. This is usually accomplished by way of a doctor’s note and is often referenced in the medical records as well. The injured person’s employer would also have to verify the person’s salary and time missed from work in order to arrive at a total amount to claim in lost wage damages.
In addition to receiving actual lost wages, an injured plaintiff can also be compensated for loss of future earning capacity. For example, as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident, the person may not be able to return to the same job as before, or may have to be moved to a lighter duty capacity – oftentimes being forced to take a drastic pay cut. In more serious cases, the injured plaintiff may have to change careers altogether, to his or her financial detriment. Testimony – such as that of a vocational rehabilitation expert, boss, or co-worker – can be helpful in proving lost wages and loss of future earning capacity.
Past, Present, and Future Pain and Suffering
An injured plaintiff can also be compensated for past, present, and future pain and suffering experienced as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Unlike the types of damages listed above, these damages are called “non-economic damages,” as they cannot readily be measured in dollars and cents. In order to prove these types of damages, an injured plaintiff will need to testify about the impact that the injuries have had on his or her life while treating, at the present time, and into the foreseeable future. It can also be helpful to testify about activities which are much more difficult to do now (or even impossible to do), but which were very easy to do before the accident. These damages are also designed to compensate the person for conscious pain and suffering experienced while treating for injuries and undergoing physical therapy.
Expert testimony from healthcare providers is necessary to establish the likelihood of permanency and to offer an opinion about the extent to which the person will suffer for the rest of his or her life, based upon the person’s age, injury level, and prognosis for future care. The expert, who is oftentimes a physician, can draw on his or her medical experience and background in treating other patients with similar injuries.
Emotional Distress and Mental Anguish
An injured plaintiff can also receive compensation for emotional distress and mental anguish sustained as a result of injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. Motor vehicle accidents are traumatic incidents, and they often have residual, long-standing emotional effects on a person’s life and well being. For example, as a result of a hit and run collision at a traffic intersection, an injured plaintiff may become nervous every time he or she crosses the street in the future. Similarly, the victim of a serious motor vehicle accident may become nervous every time he or she gets behind the wheel of a car, enters an intersection, or passes a stop sign. Seriously injured plaintiffs may have flashbacks every time they get behind the wheel of a car.
Expert testimony, such as that of a psychiatrist or psychologist, may be necessary to prove these types of damages. While these damages are recoverable, they can be difficult to prove, except in the most serious cases. You should also know that whenever an injured plaintiff puts emotional distress or mental anguish “on the table,” he or she opens the door to other possible causes for these problems, such as a prior history of mental heath issues or recurring problems involving drug and alcohol use.