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What Are Damages?

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages are what the at-fault party pays to the injured party in a California personal injury case. Compensatory damages exist to "compensate" (pay) the victim for their losses. Compensatory damages are different than punitive damages (also known as exemplary damages).

Punitive damages exist to punish the at-fault party and discourage others from making the same mistakes. Punitive damages exist to punish the wrongdoer and make an example of them.

In California personal injury cases, compensatory damages break down into two general categories. Compensatory damages are also called "actual" damages.

  • Economic damages - things that are easier to quantify. Quantify means to measure.
  • Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. These are harder to quantify.

Most personal damages are called “compensatory” - they're meant to compensate an injured person for what they lost due to the accident, and their injuries. These compensatory damages are easier to calculate than others. These are called incurred economic damages:

  • Medical treatment already received
  • Income lost from work, including when a doctor put you on disability, or you took time off to go to the doctor
  • Property damage, like your damaged car
  • Other out of pocket costs that are a direct result of your injury

These compensatory damages are harder to calculate than the above ones. These are called future economic damages:

  • Medical treatment you'll need in the future because of the accident
  • Loss of future wages
  • Loss of future ability to earn an income

The hardest types of compensatory damages to calculate are these ones - they're called non-economic damages. They can be incurred (already happened) or future (reasonably probable that they will occur in the future):

  • Pain suffered during the accident and afterward
  • Emotional distress; the psychological impact of the accident. Examples: anxiety, fear, insomnia
  • Permanent disability, disfigurement or scarring
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium

What Are Punitive Damages?

As mentioned above, another type of damage is called punitive, sometimes called "exemplary" damages. These are designed to punish particularly bad conduct on the part of the other party and make an example of them to the rest of society. Punitive damages are only available in certain types of cases, like when the person who ran the red light was also driving drunk. Punitive damages are unavailable in most serious personal injury cases.

Does It Matter Where My Accident Happened?

Besides the above damages, when determining the value of your case, where it happened can be very important. Why? Because the city or town where it accident happened can determine which court house is the right one to hear the case. This is called the "venue." Certain places, even counties located side by side, have very different feelings about people who sue for personal injury lawsuits. This jury bias will be reflected in the value of your case. 

The information on this page applies to people who got hurt in ALL of the 12 Counties Where I Work, including Santa Clara County.

What Is Gardner Law And Can It Help Me On My Accident Case?

Gardner Law is a law office founded and owned by me, San José personal injury attorney Renée Yvonne Gardner. I am an accident attorney. I have experience representing personal injury and wrongful death cases. 

You should talk to an attorney before you do anything besides: calling 911 and seek medical care. I speak Spanish - hablo español. If you had an accident or got bitten by a dog, reach out to me at (408) 214-5555 or here: message me here.


I am located in Santa Clara County but I represent injured people in these 12 California Counties:

 Alameda County ○ Contra Costa County ○ Fresno County ○ Marin County ○ Merced County ○ Monterey County ○ San Benito County ○ San Francisco County ○ San Joaquin County ○ San Mateo County ○ Santa Clara County ○ Santa Cruz County

What Kind Of Damages Can I Collect After An Car Accident?



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If you were hurt in an accident due to someone else's negligence,

California law says the at-fault party is legally responsible for your damages.

This page says "car accident" damages,

but all of these damages can be claimed in any personal injury case.

Contact Renée Today

For one-on-one and personalized representation in serious personal injury or death cases, or streamlined and efficient small claims court assistance for your consumer issue, I'm here to serve you.