Family of California personal injury victims can sue after death

Before 2021, California was one of the few states in the United States that did not allow the family of a person injured by another’s negligence to pursue compensation for pain, suffering and disfigurement after that person died. A law signed in October of 2021 changed that.

How did this change affect personal injury cases?

How the law affects personal injury cases

Advocates for new legislation, say that the old law provided an incentive for defendants to harass plaintiffs and delay cases in the hope that the plaintiff would die before the case went to trial. When this happened under the previous law, the family of the deceased person could only recover economic damages. This allowed the defendant to avoid paying any damages for pain, suffering or disfigurement. Allowing families to receive compensation for non-economic damages suffered by the deceased plaintiff has the potential to significantly increase the awards in successful personal injury cases.

Economic versus non-economic damages

Economic damages include financial damages suffered as the result of an injury. Examples of economic damages include medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages are non-tangible damages such as pain, suffering and disfigurement. These damages do not have a specific economic value, but the court estimates a dollar value to compensate the victim. These damages are often calculated based on the amount of economic damages.

This change to California law makes it possible for the family or estate of a deceased person injured by the negligence of another party to collect the full value of a personal injury claim, rather than the economic damages only. This benefits the family and disincentivizes defendants from gaming the system to reduce awards.

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