California Car Crashes | Elements of Compensation
- October 7, 2020 - Catastrophic Injury,
I’m Mike Hackard of Hackard Law. It’s been over 40 years since I represented my first client injured in a car crash case. The rules that applied over 4 decades ago still apply today.
California’s system of compensation is simple. Damages are recovered when a defendant was negligent, a plaintiff was harmed, and the defendant’s negligence is a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm.
Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. The most common car crash negligence cases are rear-end collisions, single vehicle crashes, T-Bone or Cross-Traffic crashes, clipping other cars when merging, and low speed accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identifies rear-end collisions as the most common car accidents. These crashes occur on freeways, intersections, traffic signals, in construction zones, and even parking lots. The striking driver is usually at fault in these collisions.
Most of us have seen single vehicle crashes. Some while they were happening, and others after they’ve happened. Many times, these accidents are caused by driver error – such as cell phone use, rubbernecking, speeding, and drunk or drowsy driving. Vehicle passengers can often recover compensation from the negligent driver.
Of course, there are single vehicle accidents that are not the result of driver error. Rollover accidents are sometimes the result of a design defect. Road obstructions and unmarked hazards are other dangers that cause accidents. Defective parts may also play a role in single vehicle accidents.
T-Bone or Cross-Traffic accidents create their own terror. Anyone who has been involved in or seen one of these accidents will never forget it. Motorists running red lights, failing to yield the right of way, speeding, or taking their eyes off the road for even a split second can result in tragedy.
Clipping car crashes are frequent. I can think of several times that I’ve seen these on my regular commute. Drivers at fault are often changing lanes, entering a roadway from a yield or controlled access ramp, or merging into a lane as their own lane ends.
Low speed accidents – those under the speed of ten miles per hour – often happen in parking lots and housing areas. They risk bicyclists and pedestrian lives. A good number of these injuries are occurring while drivers are backing up.
Compensation for injuries really shouldn’t be arbitrary. California law lays out what is compensable and what is not. We have a basic safety rule that we should never needlessly endanger anyone. Can anyone really disagree? This rule derives from common sense as well as volumes of laws, regulations and standard practices.
Damages stemming from the violation basically are designed to fix what can be fixed, help what can be helped, and make up for the balance of what cannot be fixed or helped.
California jurors consider two categories of damages. One is called economic damage and the other noneconomic damage. Jurors have no fixed standard for deciding the amount of damages. They use their judgment to decide a reasonable amount based on their common sense and the evidence. Economic damages include past and future medical expenses. This makes sense.
It wouldn’t be fair to compensate an injured party for what their medical expenses to date and completely ignore what might be years more of predictable medical expenses that they may need in the future. The same is true for lost earnings. If the injury kept you off the job for months or years, it would be senseless to not account for future lost earnings.
What would we think if a defendant said that he’s fine with compensating you for what you’ve already lost but he wants to ignore what you will likely lose in the future? The logic behind this is that compensation should allowed for what cannot be fixed in the future – for future lost earnings as well as lost earning capacity.
Each case presents its own set of economic and noneconomic damages. Noneconomic damages include past and future physical pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, physical impairment, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation and emotional distress. That’s quite a list – and, if we don’t think about real people with real issues it sounds too clinical.
But let’s sit down with a friend, a relative or a co-worker who has been severely injured in a car crash. I think of a woman that I know that has had dozens of surgeries.
She suffered horrendous injuries in a car crash where the other driver was at fault. She is courageous. She sets an example. She is fully engaged in life – in her family – and thinks about others.
She is also in near continual pain. The pain is not likely to go away. She shifts in her chair. She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t talk about mental suffering, but I think how can she not have it?
Does she have grief for her losses – for what she cannot do. For what cannot be fixed. While her gaze is steady, her walk is not. She needs a walker and at times a wheelchair. This is inconvenient at best. It’s distressing.
Still, however hurt she is, she is a victor. Those who know her do not forget her. Our heroes are rarely celebrated for their lives of comfort. Courage, perseverance, and resilience can be seen in the lives of the afflicted.
She did not choose affliction. It is an unwelcome visitor. But, one she battles daily.
Who would say that she should pay the price for the injury that she suffered at the hands of a negligent driver? Her case, and the cases of thousands of other injured Californians, ultimately is a case of compensation. An effort to make people the best that you can after catastrophic injury.
If you or a loved one have been injured because another driver needlessly endangered you, contact Hackard Law for help. Call 916-313-3030.
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