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What Damages Can I Get in a Vehicle Accident Case?


What you may receive as an award from a jury or in a settlement from an insurance company is an attempt to “make you whole,” though depending on your injuries that may be impossible. It’s financial compensation for all the harm you suffered, which is always intangible and challenging to value.  Ultimately is a market-based valuation, with the marketplace being verdicts and settlement in other California cases.

If you are seriously injured in an accident, contact Callaway & Wolf at 415-541-0300 to schedule a free case evaluation as soon as possible. If you delay getting legal representation, you may say and do things that may greatly decrease the damages you may receive.

What are Damages?

Damages represent the dollar value of the injuries and losses you endured. They’re a crucial part of your claim. Even if you could clearly show the other driver’s at fault, you have to establish damages.  Most people have never been in this situation before, and are at a loss to value their claim correctly, much less recover for that amount .

Vehicle accident damages fall into two general categories, economic or special damages and non-economic or general damages. Economic damages are easily defined and calculated, like the value of your totaled car or what you spent on prescription medications. Non-economic damages compensate you for pain, anxiety, scarring, or disfigurement.

What damages you suffer and their value depends on the facts of your case. No two accidents or victims are the same, so your case is unique.

1. Pain and suffering

This can cover physical, emotional, and psychological pain:

  • The physical pain caused during the accident as it happened
  • The physical pain and discomfort since the accident, including medical treatment, recovery, and afterward for as long as you’re expected to feel them in the future 
  • The emotional and psychological harm from before the accident if you saw the other car approach yours, through medical treatment, potentially for the indefinite future. This can include the depression and anger you feel because of chronic pain, physical disabilities, inability to work, financial problems, fear of what the future may bring, and the negative impacts on your relations with your spouse and family members 

How much pain and suffering you go through is determined by your statements, physical diagnosis, medical records, prescriptions to treat pain and psychiatric conditions, psychological treatment records, if and when your recovery’s expected, and witness testimony of what you’ve said and how you’ve acted before and after the accident.

How do you put a dollar figure on this? Insurance companies often want to use a multiplier. Your medical, rehabilitation, and psychiatric bills relating to the accident would be combined and the sum multiplied by a number normally ranging from 1.5 to five. That figure is based on the:

  • Severity of your physical injuries
  • Prospects for a complete recovery in a relatively quick time
  • How seriously your daily life is impacted
  • The strength of the evidence showing the other party’s at fault. If the case involves reckless driving at high speeds or the driver was drunk, the number will increase

But this is a crude method, and it is not at all applicable to many types of injuries.  If, for example, someone is on Medi-Cal and has low medical bills as a result, how fair would it be to index pain and suffering to those bills?  Or if someone has a painful injury which does not typically get very much expensive treatment, such as a broken collarbone (clavicle), how fair would that ratio be?    Nonetheless, the higher the medical bills are, the easier it is to get an insurance carrier or other entity to pay more.

2. Medical Expenses

Your damages are partly based on how expensive your treatment and recovery becomes. The logic is if you have very high bills and need a lot of treatment and rehabilitation services, the more severe your injuries must be. You’ll also be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket costs and expenses.

3. Property Damage

You would be paid for the value of property damaged or destroyed, including your vehicle and any personal property in it. The costs of renting a car until yours is repaired or replaced would be covered.  If you are in a vehicle collision with very little damage to your vehicle, most insurance companies will hold this against your claim, as they know that juries are skeptical of such claims.

4. Lost Wages

You would be reimbursed for time lost at work, whether paid or not. If you missed so much time you lost your job, that lost income until you found another would be covered (as long as you use reasonable efforts to get a new job).

If you suffered a permanent disability that impacted your ability to work, you may receive an award to compensate for future losses. If you can’t make as much money as you did in the past, your future earnings won’t be as high, or you’re totally disabled and aren’t expected to work at all, you should get an award for those expected losses—diminished earning capacity.  Recovering for this typed of harm almost always involves hired experts.

What Should I Do and Not Do to Maximize My Damages?

You need to be honest with the healthcare professionals you work with. That means not downplaying what you’re feeling and your limitations but also not engaging exaggerating them either. 

What you say goes into your records which are read by the insurance company. If the notes say you told your doctor you feel good, they’ll think it’s not a severe injury. If you exaggerate about your condition and the insurance company believes you’re not being honest, they may offer little or nothing to settle your case. If we think a client is lying to us or involved in fraud, we decline to proceed with that client.

Make reasonable treatment choices and do your best to get through rehabilitation and recover as fast as you can. The most successful and sympathetic injury case clients are the ones who are trying the hardest to get better, and if anything, slightly downplay the symptoms.  People who go to doctors saying their pain is 10 on a 1-10 scale don’t look credible. 

Keep careful records of everything you spend on anything accident-related. Document your time away from work and keep copies of any correspondence, emails, or texts between you and your employer.

Get the Help You Need from Lawyers You Can Trust

If you’re injured as in a vehicle accident because of another’s negligence or intentional act, Callaway & Wolf can help. Your initial consultation with an attorney will be free, and we work on a contingency fee basis, so you won’t pay us unless you obtain compensation.

Call us today at 415-541-0300 to schedule a consultation at our San Francisco or Oakland office to discuss your case, how California law may apply, and how we can help you recover the compensation you deserve.


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