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California Damage Caps: Limits on Compensation Explained

Damage caps in California limit the amount of money that can be awarded for certain types of damages in lawsuits. For medical malpractice cases, non-economic damages are capped at $250,000, while there is no cap on economic damages. Punitive damages do not have a statutory cap but must be reasonable and proportional to the actual harm suffered.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Limits on Monetary Damages in Car Accident Cases

Firstly, a driver convicted of DUI cannot recover any non-economic damages from an accident lawsuit, even if they were not at fault in the crash.

According to Casey Garry, under California law, damage caps also exist on non-economic damages in car crash cases, which would include any damages that are not medical expenses, damage to your car, or lost wages [1].

Secondly, an uninsured vehicle owner is barred from recovering non-economic damages, except when another driver under the influence causes the damages.

Thirdly, uninsured drivers are prohibited from claiming non-economic damages in any car-related case, whether stemming from a collision or not. This rule originates from the 1996 Personal Responsibility Act, aimed at encouraging Californians to maintain car insurance.

What are Punitive Damages?

According to SIL, under California Civil Code 3294, a court may award punitive or exemplary damages to a plaintiff “for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant” [2]. These damages are in addition to compensatory damages, serving to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar conduct.

When Can a Plaintiff Seek Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are rare and require the defendant to have acted egregiously enough to merit additional punishment.

However, they can be sought in most personal injury claims, such as:

How Do Courts Determine to Award Punitive Damages?

The plaintiff must request punitive damages when filing their lawsuit. If the plaintiff prevails, the court examines the case facts to determine if exemplary damages are warranted, requiring “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.”

These terms are defined as:

  • Oppression: “Despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.”
  • Malice: “Conduct intended to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct carried out with willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
  • Fraud: “An intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention of depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.”

Interpreting these definitions requires an experienced personal injury attorney who can demonstrate why your case qualifies for punitive damages.

What Is the California Punitive Damages Cap?

California does not impose a cap on the amount of punitive damages recoverable. A jury may award any amount deemed appropriate, provided it is “reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff and to the general damages recovered,” as required by a Supreme Court decision.

Who Assesses the Victim’s Needs, and How?

According to KLO, there is no universally defined answer for levels of need, as they vary for individuals based on their unique circumstances [3]. The primary concerns for accident victims include current and future medical expenses and potential loss of earnings due to injuries.

To accurately determine a victim’s needs to maintain their pre-injury financial lifestyle, consulting financial and medical experts is essential. A skilled personal injury attorney with access to experienced accountants and medical professionals can help estimate and validate future needs and expenses

Court awards for damages can reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, which may seem surprising. However, when considering non-economic damages related to age, injury severity, and financial dependents, these figures can be justified.

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The Litigation Group at Schmidt & Clark, LLP is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focuses on the representation of plaintiffs in lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and are currently accepting new legal challenges in all 50 states.

If you or a loved one was involved with these matters, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and we can help.



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