General damages (also known in California as “non-economic” damages) in a personal injury or wrongful death case are intangible damages, which are the most valuable in a personal injury claim. Intangible damages include loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress. All of these items can be penciled out in front of a jury into dollars and cents. Each lawyer has a different way of presenting them. There is nothing in the statutes that explains how a jury is supposed to come to a decision about the worth or value of those items. It's the lawyer's job to tell the jury how they can compute those damages. For instance, one of the ways to compute those damages is to compare them to how much a person might spend to be pain free, whether it be by purchasing medications or other devices. That can be translated into what the victim should receive for being in pain.
Another way to calculate general (non-economic) damages is to set an amount for how much they should receive per hour or day for being in pain. Sometimes, the injuries last for their entire life in which case the attorney will tell the jury what the expected remaining life expectancy is for a person of the client's gender, race, and age. The jury can then calculate how much the client should receive to live with that pain forever. One things a client can do to help their attorney in this area is to provide a list of other witnesses, friends, family, co-workers, or people who can speak to how the injury has affected that individual. A jury will typically have greater respect hearing about how the injury has impacted the victim from other people as opposed to from the injured victim directly. The reason is that the victim can be viewed as biased because they stand to win a lot of money for their injuries.
In regard to proving these types of damages in a case, it's very important for the client to think about who knows them best. Who has seen them go through what they have gone through? Who would be a good witness to talk about that at the trial? When it comes to the law on the subject, the law doesn't provide a method for determining intangible or non-economic damages. In California, the only law on the subject of compensatory damages is set forth in Civil Code Section 3333. The code basically provides that if the plaintiff sustained an injury that was legally caused by the tortious wrong of another, they are entitled to receive an amount of money that will reasonably compensate for all physical, mental, and emotional detriment attributable to the injury. All jury instructions stem from this statute.
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