In a California negligence action, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant owed a duty to commit an act or refrain from committing an act; the defendant breached this duty; the breach of the duty caused an injury to the plaintiff; the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the injury and the plaintiff suffered damages.
Pure Comparative Negligence
As established in Li v. Yellow Cab, 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975), California uses a pure comparative negligence standard. Pure comparative negligence allows a plaintiff to recover even if his level of negligence is equal to or greater than a defendant’s level of negligence. The Court in Li v. Yellow Cab held that the fundamental purpose of pure comparative negligence is to assign responsibility and liability for damages in direct proportion to the amount of negligence of each of the parties.
To determine the amount of a damages award a plaintiff is entitled to recover in a pure comparative negligence system, such as that adopted by the California Supreme Court, the fault of the plaintiff is compared with the fault of all other persons or entities whose conduct contributed to the injury.
Modified Joint & Several Liability
In California joint and several liability is followed with regard to economic damages. This means that with regard to an award of damages for economic damages, the plaintiff may recover a portion or the entire economic damages award from one or all of the tortfeasors but the plaintiff is only entitled to one full recovery.
However, liability for noneconomic damages under California law is limited to the proportion of noneconomic damages which is equal to each tortfeasor’s percentage of fault. Noneconomic damages are intangible, subjective damages including, but not limited to, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental suffering, inconvenience, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, etc.
Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of the defendant(s). The award is meant to restore the plaintiff – as much as possible – to the condition they were in prior to the injury occurring.
Special damages or economic damages fall under the category of compensatory damages in that they are meant to cover medical expenses, property damage expenses, loss of earnings, nursing care and other expenses that can be documented.
General damages or noneconomic damages, also under the compensatory damages umbrella, are related to the intangible losses associated with the injury – items that cannot be documented. These include pain and suffering, emotional distress, interference with family relationships, etc.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff. According to California Civil Code section 3294, punitive damages may be awarded when it has been proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of malice, oppression or fraud.
Subdivision (c) (1) of section 3294 defines “malice” as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
Subdivision (c)(2) defines “oppression” as “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.”
Subdivision (c)(3) defines “fraud” as “intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.”
The law firm of Walker Morgan is located at 135 E Main St., Lexington, SC 29072. All lawyers at Walker Morgan are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. Should you wish to retain our firm for legal representation regarding a potential case in any other jurisdiction we are required to associate local counsel in that foreign jurisdiction and seek permission from a court of the foreign jurisdiction to temporarily engage in the practice of law therein for purposes of pursuing your potential claim only.
By offering the following information the lawyers at Walker Morgan are not offering legal advice or legal guidance. The lawyers at Walker Morgan are not licensed to practice law in California. Should you have a question/concern specific to California law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of California.