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How Prop 51 Impacts Your Personal Injury Claim

In every personal injury claim, damages are broken down into two categories: Economic and Non-Economic. Economic damages are those damages which are easily identifiable, such as lost income and medical bills. Non-Economic damages are those which are not identified with specificity, such as pain and suffering and mental anguish. Prior to 1986, an injured party who pursued multiple defendants for her injuries (because, for example, she was struck by two negligent vehicles) would be able to obtain all of her economic and non-economic damages from a single party (typically the one who had the money or assets to pay her), even though there were multiple parties at fault. Proposition 51 (otherwise known as the California Fair Responsibility Act), which has been codified in California Civil Code Sectio 1431.2, changed this rule and imposed several liability with respect to non-economic damages (even though it still maintains joint liability for economic damages). Joint liability means that one party may pay all of the economic damages. Several liability means that each defendant will pay only his proportional share of non-economic damages. For example, if defendant #1 was 40% at fault, he would be responsible for only 40% of the personal injury victim’s non-economic damages, whereas prior to this change, he could be responsible for all of them (assuming he was able to pay). This is a reflection of Califorrnia’s comparative fault rules. However, what is unique about this law is that if the victim settles with one defendant prior to trial, the second defendant cannot use the amount of the settlement of non-economic damages as an offset of his ultimate responsibility to the victim. In a way, this may provide even greater compensation to the injured party. For example, Victim settles with At-Fault Party #1 for $100,000, which encompasses full payment of Victim’s medical bills and $50,000 for pain and suffering (non-economic damages). At trial, Victim seeks and additional $250,000 in non-economic damages from At-Fault Party #2. At-Fault Party #2 cannot seek to reduce the amount the jury awards Victim by the $50,000 in non-economic damages already paid. Realize, if one of the at-fault parties owed the personal injury victim a non-delegable duty, then regardless of the extent of another party’s fault, the at-fault party with the non-delegable duty will be responsible for paying 100% of the non-economic damages (even if they are found to be, for example, only 25% to blame for the accident) (see Non-Delegable Duty of Landowner/Property Owner [Trip/Slip and Fall Accident]). If you have suffered personal injuries at the hands of multiple individuals, contact our personal injury claim attorney to learn more about your right to recovery taking into account Proposition 51.

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