Personal Injury Damages - What You Are Able to Recover

car accident

As long as you have auto insurance yourself, California law entitles you to recover various types of damages, including pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of earnings, disfigurement, damage to the marital relationship, punitive damages, and death.

The most “valuable” element of your bodily injury claim is the right to compensation for the physical pain and mental anguish you have suffered and will endure in the future because of your injury. These general damages are in addition to and could be far more than the amount of your lost earnings and medical expenses.

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no specific measurement to determine the value of pain and suffering in any given case. As every case is different and involves numerous variables, the value of pain and suffering also varies. For example, the pain and suffering endured by someone who’s lost a limb are, obviously, far greater than somebody who’s stubbed a toe.

Medical Expenses

The cost of reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred and reasonably certain to be incurred in the future because of your injury are recoverable. All forms of care and treatment, whether hospital, medical, therapy, nursing, diagnostic testing, surgery, physical therapy, and the like, are recoverable.

Loss of Earnings

You are also entitled to recover the loss of earnings suffered from your injuries. Thus, wages, commissions, bonuses, and all other earnings and fringe benefits are recoverable. This topic is discussed further within a separate section of this book. Future Loss of Earnings: If your injuries permanently limit your ability to earn, you can recover the value of the reduction. A loss of future earning capacity can be calculated by determining what income you will lose in the future as a result of your injuries. These damages compensate you for your lost earning power over the remainder of your working years. 


If your injury causes scarring and/or other unsightly marks, you are entitled to recover for the disfigurement and humiliation or embarrassment associated with the disfigurement, as well as the costs of cosmetic surgery.

Damage to the Marital Relationship

Serious injuries to a spouse may cause damage to the marital relationship. If this occurs, you and/or your spouse are entitled to recover for the loss of society, affection, assistance, conjugal fellowship, and loss or impairment of sexual relations. 

Punitive Damages

In some cases - where the accident was caused by “criminal negligence” - for example, driving while under the influence of alcohol - you may also be entitled to punitive damages above and beyond all previously explained damages.


Damages for “wrongful death” may be available for the deceased person's wife, husband, parent, and child. Damages include economic loss, mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, and/or education. Damages may be available for the deceased’s estate as well.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 6.25.21]

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