What damages are available in California brain injury cases?

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Stephen C. Ball - Personal Injury - General - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Stephen C. Ball

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Traumatic brain injuries are among the most severe, life-altering transformations anyone could undergo. They can leave victims with completely different personalities, cognitive capabilities, physical abilities and earning capacities. They have a significant impact on victims’ quality of life.

Because these injuries are so far-reaching – and the harm permanent – the damages are often extensive. California personal injury law establishes three general categories of compensation that may be available in these cases: economic damages, noneconomic damages and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

These damages encompass the financial losses that result from a traumatic brain injury, including:

  • Lost earnings
  • Medical bills
  • Therapy and rehab
  • Residence in a nursing facility
  • In-home care
  • Home modifications
  • Medical devices and assistive/adaptive equipment
  • Property damage from the accident

Economic damages also cover estimated future expenses such as:

  • Loss of future income or earning capacity (even if the victim has no work history)
  • Future medical and care-related expenses
  • Household services the victim would have provided were it not for the injury

Over the course of a lifetime, brain injuries can cost upward of a million dollars in medical care alone. Much depends on case-specific factors such as the extent of the injury and the life expectancy of the victim before the injury occurred. Life care planners and expert witnesses can help nail down a reasonable estimation of these expenses.

Noneconomic Damages

Victims can also seek compensation for many of the nonfinancial ramifications of brain injuries, including:

  • Pain and suffering (past and future)
  • Physical impairments
  • Diminished quality of life

Another category type of noneconomic damages – loss of consortium – is available to spouses and domestic partners of victims who have suffered severe brain damage. In these cases, the victim’s partner may seek compensation for:

  • Loss of affection, companionship, emotional comfort and moral support
  • Loss of intimate relations
  • Loss of their partner’s ability to have children
  • Loss of financial support and household services the partner would have provided

There’s no easy way to translate these losses into dollar figures. Juries are entrusted with wide discretion in awarding these damages. For this reason, it’s critical to paint a clear picture of how the brain injury has impacted the victim’s life (and that of their loved ones), from the daily struggles to the long-term prognosis.

Punitive Damages

California law allows juries to award punitive damages (also called exemplary damages) – that is, extra compensation designed to punish the wrongdoer and discourage others from engaging in the same behavior – in particularly egregious cases such as drunk driving accidents. The victim must prove by clear and convincing evidence (a higher standard than other elements of a personal injury case) one of the following factors:

  • Malice (intentional misconduct)
  • Oppression (willful and conscious disregard of the victim’s rights)
  • Fraud (intentional concealment, misrepresentation or deceit)

In awarding punitive damages, the jury can consider the wrongdoer’s wealth and any profits derived from the misconduct.


Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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