Economic vs. non-economic damages

Written on behalf of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

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Drivers and passengers who are involved in car accidents in California may be awarded a variety of damages. These damages fall into two categories: economic and non-economic, and these amounts add up to almost $1 trillion in accident-related losses every year. Economic damages are easier to determine and put a dollar amount on, while non-economic damages are harder to prove and settle on. Even if a driver is determined to be the major cause of the accident, he or she may be eligible for a proportional amount of the damages except in certain situations.  

The Los Angeles Times reports that accidents result in an economic loss of $277 billion of tangible costs every year and around $594 billion in other damages. Actual losses include those from:

  • Property damage
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost productivity
  • Traffic-related congestion

FindLaw reports that a large part of the non-economic damages come from pain and suffering damages, which victims in California are eligible to receive in certain situations. These damages include:

  • Mental suffering due to accident
  • Pain and future pain effects
  • Emotional distress
  • Embarrassment
  • Companionship loss
  • Inconvenience
  • Reputation damage

Lawsuits for non-economic damages must be filed within two years of the accident in order to be considered. Even when the driver is partly or majorly at fault, damages may be awarded thanks to the state’s pure comparative fault rule. 

There are, however, circumstances in which the driver is ineligible to receive pain and suffering damages. This includes instances in which the vehicle is underinsured or uninsured and when a DUI is involved.


Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith

Managing Partner

Robert B. Waldsmith

Robert J. Waldsmith

Partner, 1999

William B. Smith

William B. Smith

Partner, 1978

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