How Claims Litigation in California Works

By: Manuel Salvacion

Accident claims in California are litigated under the “tort liability system". This system governs how pain and suffering claims are going to be resolved. Under the system, a jury decides on the amount of damages to be paid to an accident victim. The litigation jury works together with insurance companies to determine the value of accident damages and based on it, pay the most reasonable amount for settlement.

California law categorizes damages into two: economic damages and non-economic damages. Between the two, non-economic damage is more controversial because they are not easy to define and quantify, hence it makes up a substantial part of the victim’s recovery efforts. Economic damages are those that can be recovered easily; they can also be computed in mathematical terms.

In vehicle accidents cases, economic damages often include the following:
• Medical expenses
• Lost wages
• Lost earning capacity
• Loss of ability to provide household services
• Damage to real property
• Loss of use of real property
• Damage to personal property
• Loss or destruction of personal property
• Damage to personal property having a special value
• Loss of use of personal property
• Lost profits

On the other hand, non-economic damages may include:

• Physical pain
• Mental suffering
• Emotional distress
• Loss of consortium (loss of companionship and services)

To be able to evaluate damages, the jury and the insurance companies assign values on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Values are determined by several factors:

• Job/ Income – A claimant’s job or occupation and income may influence the jury on the amount of damages to be awarded to him.
• Age – Age can also give a person greater consideration in claim. The jury when awarding higher payments gives older persons preferential treatment.
• Legal assistance – The jury also considers your choice of lawyer as a factor in awarding payments.
• Where the case is filed –Juries in urban areas usually award higher payments than in small towns and rural areas.
• Attitude/ witness quality – Behavior and manner of the victim during hearing can affect the decision of a jury when giving out payment.
• Pre-existing injury – A claimant suffering from an old injury might receive lower payment for damages.
• Medical treatment – The jury often awards a high value payment to claimants who can support their claims with medical records and statements from doctors.



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