Those involved in auto accidents could sue for compensation if another person were partially or fully responsible for the accident. You can sue for damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and wrongful deah. The value of your compensation will vary greatly depending on the severity of the injuries and where the fault lies. If you or a loved one is seeking compensation for an auto accident, work with a Sacramento personal injury attorney law firm like Foos Gavin Law Firm to help you during the process.

Forms of Compensation for Auto Accidents in California

Auto accidents resulting in property damage and injuries can be costly. The costs vary widely depending on the nature and severity of the accidents and the resulting injuries. Serious accidents often result in more severe injuries, such as traumatic brain injury and limb loss, requiring more medical treatment and post-recovery rehabilitation than minor accidents.

Fortunately, you can recover some or all of the costs related to the accident by filing a personal injury claim. Following the claim, the court may award you compensation for economic and non-economic damages incurred in the aftermath of the accident.

Here’s a breakdown of the compensation you can recover after an auto accident.

  1. Medical Expenses

Medical bills are often the first and most noticeable cost following an auto accident. The incurred expenses vary greatly depending on the severity of your injuries. For instance, a person who suffers a spinal cord injury will have more bills than someone who suffered whiplash.

You could seek compensation for medical expenses even if you used health insurance to cover your costs.

Most people shy away from seeking medical treatment, especially when they aren't financially capable of handling medical bills. Failing to seek immediate medical help can affect you later when trying to recover damages from the accident.

Some of the options you can explore to handle your medical bills include:

  • Private health insurance

  • Your health insurance coverage under your auto insurance policy

  • Medical lien

Regardless of how you pay for medical costs following an accident, keep the related documentation, as it will be necessary when calculating your total medical costs. Keep receipts of the costs of:

  • Doctor visits

  • Chiropractic care

  • Rehabilitation

  • Medical devices

  • ER visit

  • Costs incurred when visiting the hospital, such as ambulance fees

Medical damages also include potential future medical costs that are reasonably related to the current injuries. Some injuries sustained after a road accident have long-term effects that continue to accrue medical costs.

The most common catastrophic injuries that necessitate long-term medical care include spinal cord injuries, traumatic head injuries, and severe burns.

The court calculated the medical expenses owed to you by adding up the costs of the treatment you have already received. If you will need additional medical treatment in the future, the court relies on the input of expert witnesses like doctors and financial experts to estimate the value of the medical treatment required to manage your condition in the future.

  1. Lost Wages

Most accidents often result in missed work. This means you will not earn what you could have due to the accident. Damages for lost wages compensate you for the dollar value of the earnings you could have made if you weren’t injured.

Some of the wages compensated for as lost wages include:

  • Your regular salary

  • Overtime

  • Commissions

  • Self-employment income

  • Vacation

  • Lost benefits and perks

  • Bonuses

  • Allowances

In most cases, especially where the impact was short-term, calculating the lost wages is straightforward. The court will need evidence of previous pay stubs, bonuses, and perks you typically receive.

The court then adds the wages to determine what you have lost while recovering from your injuries. You may need to present evidence to prove your lost wages. Some helpful evidence includes:

  • A lost wages letter from an employer stating your job title, employment period, your earning level, and additional benefits you received when working for the employer

  • Past pay stubs or tax returns

  • Tax return and billing statement for your business if you claim lost self-employment income.

  • Proof of your employer’s policy on perks such as overtime and commissions and proof that you would have met the conditions for earning these perks

  • Bank deposits (your bank statements are appropriate when you typically receive your income in cash – for instance, tips)

  1. Lost Earning Capacity

Lost wages compensate you for past income that you have lost due to an injury. Damages for lost earning capacity compensate you for the future income you lose due to an injury. Since accidents can potentially leave you incapable of working at your pre-accident capacity, it can affect your earnings and quality of life.

Lost earning capacity is more difficult to calculate and often requires the court to consider factors such as:

  • Your life expectancy before the accident

  • The severity of the injury and its long-term impact

  • How long it will be before you can work at your pre-accident levels

  • Your age

  • The number of years between your injury and retirement

  • Your health before the injury

  • Your pre-accident income

  • The terms of employment before the accident as well as the employment contract

  • The opportunity for career growth in your company and industry before the accident

  • Your previous performance reviews

The court might need to call upon forensic accounting experts to help calculate lost earning potential, especially in complicated cases such as when a student is injured in an accident. Their expertise may also be required when you suffer severe injuries that make it impossible for you to maintain gainful employment.

If you can work after your injury, but your career prospects are stunted compared to your pre-injury career, the court will also award lost earning capacity damages by calculating the difference between what you currently earn and what you could have been earning if you weren't injured.

  1. Property Damage

Auto accidents can result in property damage, most notably to the vehicles involved in the accident. Other property may also be damaged in the crash, for instance, items inside the car, mailboxes, or other people's fences.

Some of the damages you may claim under property damages include:

  • Costs of repairing your vehicle

  • The fair market value of your car if it was totaled

  • The costs of rental cars while waiting for your car to be repaired

  • The value of replacements or upgrades you made to your car before the accident

  • Property lost during the crash, such as jewelry, electronics, clothing, or eyeglasses.

  • Replacements for car additions such as a car seat

When claiming compensation for damaged property, you must provide receipts indicating the value of the items you want to be compensated for. If you had lost or damaged items during the accident, such as laptops, carry the purchase receipts as proof of ownership of that laptop.

During the compensation process, you may hear references to the Actual Cash Value when determining the value of your vehicle. The Actual Cash Value (ACV) is the value of your car based on its:

  • Age

  • Make and model

  • Pre Existing damage

  • Your home location

  • Mileage

As with recovery for medical costs, ensure that you take your vehicle to an auto shop immediately after the accident. Getting your car there sooner shows that you are taking steps to mitigate the damage to your vehicle. It also allows you to evaluate the car for any problems that might have contributed to the accident.

  1. Pain and Suffering

Courts recognize the mental and physical anguish that results from an injury and seek to compensate victims of other people's negligence through pain and suffering damages. Pain and suffering damages cover temporary and permanent pain and anguish that the victim endures following the injury.

Pain and suffering damages are categorized as non-economic or general damages. They do not have an actual monetary value attached, meaning they are subjective. For example, the court cannot quantify how much it costs to be hurt from a third-degree burn, but they can determine that it is more painful than a first-degree burn.

The size of the settlement you receive depends on factors such as:

  • The severity of your injuries

  • The type of medical treatment received for your injuries (if your treatment involved multiple surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and rehabilitation, it is arguably more traumatic)

  • The length of the recovery period (the longer the recovery, the higher the award will be

  • The long-term effects of your injury (for instance, will you be in chronic pain?)

  • The value of your economic damages (medical costs, lost wages, and lost earning potential)

You must present evidence to support your claim when claiming pain and suffering damages. Saying you were or are still in pain will probably not suffice in court. Some of the evidence to support your claim include:

  • Photos of the physical injuries you suffered after the accident

  • Before and after photos or videos of your activity levels

  • Your doctor’s or therapist’s notes

  • Testimony from friends and family

  • Medical records to show the type, nature, and extent of medical treatment received for your injuries

  • Expert testimony regarding your injuries and their impact

  • Testimony of your counselor, especially where you suffered mental anguish following your accident. If you are experiencing symptoms of emotional distress such as anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness, you should consult a mental health counselor to help you.

California courts often rely on the multiplier method when calculating the value of pain and suffering damages to award a plaintiff. In this method, the court multiplies the economic damages by a number between 1 and 5. The multiplier value depends on the severity of the injury, meaning more severe injuries get the X5 multipliers while less severe injuries get a lower number.

In other cases, the court might use the per diem method to calculate the value of your pain and suffering damages. The per diem method calculated the daily dollar amount for each day you have suffered because of the accident. The daily rate is often derived from your daily earnings before the accident. For example, if you made $200 per day before the accident, the court will multiply your daily rate by the number of days you experienced pain or suffering.

Note that if you were involved in an accident, there might be limitations on the non-economic damages you claim under California Civil Code 3333.4. Under this statute:

  • You cannot recover non-economic damages if you were convicted of a DUI

  • You cannot recover or be indemnified for non-economic damages if uninsured unless a drunk driver caused the accident.

  • You cannot recover non-economic damages if you were uninsured

  1. Loss of Consortium

An auto accident can affect your relationship with your partner or significant other. If an auto accident leaves your significant other unable to participate in the relationship meaningfully, you can seek damages for loss of consortium.

Loss of consortium refers to the loss of love, companionship, support, sexual relations, moral support, and society that the injured party could have provided for their spouse if they hadn’t been injured or killed in the auto accident.

Since no one can quantify the monetary value of someone’s love, the court considers how the spouse has lost consortium. You will be required to talk about changes in your spouse's behavior and abilities that have affected your life as a couple.

In addition, you must prove a link between the injury and the loss of consortium you experience from your spouse's injury. This means that if the court can establish that your spouse did not care for you or your family before the injury, the injury is not the cause of your loss of consortium.

The evidence you present in support of your case will influence the value of your compensation. This figure is often what the court believes to be fair and reasonable. Other factors, such as the injury's severity, will also influence the figure. For example, if your spouse went from being engaged to sustaining paralysis, the court is likely to offer a higher amount.

  1. Wrongful Death

More than 3000 people die every year due to auto accidents. The surviving family members can legally sue for damages if the accident resulted from another person's wrongful act or negligence. Wrongful death damages allow the bereaved to recover:

  • The burial and funeral expenses incurred for the deceased

  • The lost income of the deceased

  • The pain and suffering the deceased endured before their demise

  • Loss of consortium, support, and companionship of the deceased

  • The financial support the deceased would have contributed to the family were they not killed in the accident

  • The value of household services the deceased would have provided

  • Loss of training and guidance (for children of the deceased)

  • Any medical costs incurred before the deceased died

Wrongful death damages are available to:

  • The deceased spouse or domestic partner

  • Children of the deceased

  • The grandchildren of the deceased

  • Other minor children who depended on the deceased for at least half of their financial support

  • Any person who would be entitled to the deceased’s estate under California Intestate Succession laws

Note that the court may award punitive damages if the defendant killed the deceased due to felony homicide and they have been convicted for the offense.

In wrongful death lawsuits, you must prove that the deceased dies due to the auto accident that the defendant was at least partially responsible for. The defendant is responsible for a person’s death if they acted:

  • Negligently

  • With gross negligent

  • Committed an intentional wrongful act

  • Were reckless

You can also file a wrongful death claim under strict liability if your loved one died from an auto accident due to vehicle defects.

How to Recover Compensation After an Auto Accident

In California, road users have a duty of care to other users. The duty of care means that each road user is legally obligated to use reasonable care to avoid injuring other road users.

When another person breaches their duty of care, you can file a lawsuit against them to recover damages that may arise from their negligence. Drivers must obey traffic rules to prevent accidents that injure others or damage property.

If you were injured in a road accident, the court first determines whether the defendant had a duty of care toward you. To do this, the court relies on a few factors:

  • The proximity of the defendant’s behavior to your injuries

  • The extent of the defendant’s burden

  • The foreseeability of the harm you suffered

  • The degree of certainty that you suffered an injury

You should begin filing for compensation if you can determine that the defendant had a duty of care and contributed to your injuries. This process may include the following steps:

  1. Determine Who Was at Fault

An accident can occur due to one or more factors. Understanding what caused the accident helps identify the party that was at fault. Some of the top causes of auto accidents in California include:

  • Distracted driving

  • Intoxicated driving

  • Speeding

  • Weather

  • Aggressive driving

  • Auto defects or malfunction

  • Poor road conditions

The police reports are the first step in determining fault in auto accidents. Law enforcement officers interview anyone at the scene who witnessed the accident. They also review the scene of the accident and collect evidence to determine who was at fault for the accident.

In their reports, police include a statement of fault for the accident. They also issue citations in case it's clear any of the parties involved violated the law.

In addition to a police report, another way to determine fault is to analyze the damage on the vehicle and work closely with an accident reconstruction expert. Examining your vehicle could help identify issues contributing to the accident or your injuries. These include:

  • Brake failure

  • Seat Belt malfunction

  • Failure of the airbag to launch

  1. Documenting Evidence

Documenting evidence begins immediately after the auto accident. If you are still conscious, take pictures and videos of the scene of the accident, the road, and the vehicles involved. Here's what to pay attention to when taking photographs and videos of the scene:

  • The damage to the interior and exterior of the vehicles involved

  • The position of the vehicle (include landmarks and road signs where possible)

  • License plates

  • Debris from the accident

  • Skid marks

  • Take note of the insurance and contact information of the other drivers involved in the accident.

After the accident, note down the time, the weather conditions, and the events leading up to the accident.

In addition to documenting the scene of the accident, keep evidence of:

  • The costs of car repairs, rentals, or transportation that you had to rely on post-accident

  • Costs of medical care for any injuries you sustained

  • Paystubs for lost wages

  • Your notes about the accident and its aftermath

  1. Filing a Claim

The first step after an accident that was someone else’s fault is filing a claim with their insurance company. Depending on the situation, the insurance company may compensate you for the damages, especially in minor accident cases.

However, in some cases, you may need to involve a personal injury attorney to help you collect compensation for the damages you incurred. Working with an attorney allows you to focus on moving your life forward while enjoying the input, guidance, and representation of an experienced third party.

If you are dealing with a car accident's serious and long-term effects, you should work with an attorney right from the start to get the most desirable outcome.

Find an Auto Accident Injury Attorney Near Me

Auto accidents can change your life in ways you hadn't anticipated. They can disrupt your life both in the short and long term. When such an accident arises due to another person's fault, seeking compensation can make the recovery process smoother and less draining. Foos Gavin Law Firm works with clients injured in various auto accidents in Sacramento, helping them recover compensation for the short-and long-term impact the accident has on their life. We also work with families who lost loved ones following auto accidents. With each client, we start with a free consultation which you can book at 916-779-3500 to help us understand your case and how we can help you.