How Much Money Is Emotional Distress Worth in California (and How Can You Prove It)?

Non-economic Damages Bakersfield

Have you ever wondered why the law’s answer to a personal injury is money?

If you’ve been hurt in a car crash or some other type of accident in California, and someone else’s negligence was at fault, you’re entitled to cover monetary compensation.

It goes without saying, of course, that money can’t undo your injury or turn back time. Courts are powerless to relieve physical suffering or emotional pain. What they can do, however, is award money to victims with three primary goals:

  • Reimbursing them for any out-of-pocket costs they’ve incurred as a direct result of the injury
  • Putting them in the same approximate position they’d have been in had the accident never happened (making you “whole again”)
  • Discouraging other parties from being negligent in the future (and punishing those who were egregiously negligent)

To that end, California victims can recover three general categories of compensation:

  • Economic damages — Direct financial losses (e.g. medical bills, lost income, diminished property value, etc.)
  • Non-economic damages — More subjective losses (e.g. pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.)
  • Punitive damages — Additional money awarded to a victim solely for the purpose of punishing the defendant (available only in extreme cases of negligence)

The concept of economic damages is fairly straightforward. But the idea of non-economic damages leaves room for confusion. Most people are familiar with phrases like “pain and suffering” and “emotional distress.” What do those terms really mean, though, and how do you put a price on them?

Actually, there are many examples of non-economic damages in California. Emotional distress is the most widely known, but there are others.

This is important because non-economic damages can represent a significant portion of your overall financial recovery after an accident in California.

By talking to an experienced Bakersfield personal injury lawyer, you can get a better sense of how much money you might expect in your situation.

Still, it is helpful for you to have a basic understanding of what these damages are, how they work as part of the claims process, and how they’re valued. We cover the basics below.

Pain and Suffering

Reimbursement for your hospital or physician bills would be considered an economic damage. But as anyone who’s been hurt before knows, those bills don’t tell the whole story.

To feel physical pain is to suffer. You deserve to be compensated for your experience of pain — an experience you wouldn’t have endured but for the injury.

California awards compensation for past, present, and ongoing / future pain and suffering, depending on the facts of the case.

Emotional Distress

There is an unfortunate stigma around the idea of emotional distress. Because you can’t see emotions or measure them on a chart, there is a tendency among some people (and most insurance companies) to downplay or dismiss the experience. But emotional distress is very real.

Examples of compensable emotional distress include:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Shock
  • Post-traumatic stress

At The Law Offices of Mickey Fine, we have extensive experience in battling insurance companies and fighting to get our clients the comprehensive emotional distress compensation they deserve.

Loss of Consortium

Consortium is another word for “relationship” or “companionship.” California recognizes the impact an injury can have on the victim’s personal and family relationships. It is most commonly awarded in wrongful death cases, such as the death of a spouse, but other situations may merit an award for loss of consortium as well.

Loss of consortium damages might include the loss of:

  • Love or affection
  • Emotional support / companionship
  • Comfort
  • Intimacy or sexual companionship (or sexual function)

Injury to Reputation

If someone else’s unreasonable or unlawful behavior causes harm to your reputation or impairs your societal relationships, you may be able to claim compensation for the injury to your good name or community standing.

Similarly, California recognizes humiliation or public embarrassment as a compensable injury. In some situations, such as libel, slander, or defamation, it may be possible to recover compensation for a damaged reputation in California even when there is no physical accident or injury.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

An injury can totally upend your life. In addition to the emotional suffering you might feel, an injury can make it impossible for you to do the things you once enjoyed — running, swimming, eating, drawing, playing piano, etc. In those cases, you might claim compensation for your loss of enjoyment, also referred to as a diminished quality of life.

Similarly, if you have suffered disability or disfigurement, you may be entitled to compensation for the life changes you experience as a result.

Limitations on Claiming Non-Economic Damages in California

At this point, you might be thinking, “What’s to stop anyone from just standing up and saying, ‘I have an emotional injury’?”

In most cases, non-economic damages will only be awarded if they are related to a physical injury. So if you suffer physical and emotional injuries, for example, you may be able to recover both economic and non-economic damages. But if your only injuries are emotional / non-economic in nature, you will have a harder time recovering.

There are exceptions, however. One notable exception is the zone of danger rule. To understand this rule, consider the example of a mother and son walking on the side of the road when a speeding car suddenly comes barreling toward them in the wrong direction.

The mother jumps out of the way in time, but the son is struck and injured. The mother may have a claim for emotional distress damages because, even though she was not physically injured, she (A) witnessed the injury of someone with whom she shares an emotional attachment and (B) she was also in danger of being hit by the car — in other words, she was in the zone of danger. In most cases, one must meet both these elements to qualify for zone of danger compensation.

Non-economic damages might be available in some other limited scenarios in which there is no physical injury. Talk to an experienced Bakersfield personal injury lawyer to learn what kind of recovery might be available to you.

How Do You Put a Price on Non-Economic Damages?

There are many ways to prove non-economic damages and then assign them a financial value. This might involve consulting with expert medical witnesses or therapists, interviewing your loved ones about the effect of the accident on your life, and considering other evidence.

Juries will look for some factual basis to make sure their award of non-economic damages is reasonable.

Because there is some gray area in the formulas and evidence used for calculating these damages, it is important to have someone fighting for your interests. Insurance companies, property owners, employers, and other corporate parties are notorious for undervaluing non-economic damages in an attempt to save themselves money. But an experienced, aggressive Bakersfield personal injury law can level the playing field.

Factors relevant to the value of non-economic damages in California include:

  • Your age
  • Your physical condition
  • The severity of the accident, injury, and emotional trauma
  • The nature of your non-economic damages
  • How long you’ve suffered with the non-economic damages
  • Whether the damages are long-term or permanent
  • How long the recovery period is expected to be
  • The severity of the disruption to your everyday life

An experienced Bakersfield personal injury attorney can fight vigorously to maximize the monetary value assigned to your non-economic damages.

Mickey Fine Is a CA Personal Injury Lawyer Who Understands That Every Penny Counts

It is not uncommon for non-economic damages to exceed economic damages in value. For that reason, it is critical that you work with an experienced personal injury lawyer who is willing to fight for a fair valuation of your suffering.

Don’t let an insurance company tell you your damages are worth less than you deserve. Contact The Law Offices of Mickey Fine for a free and confidential case review today.