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“The unexpected always happens. ”

— Proverb

Personal injury law is based upon one concept: an injured person is entitled to money from a negligent defendant.

If you want a “Personal Injury Damages Calculator,” you can find one  here, here, or even here.  I’m not going to give you a “Personal Injury Settlement Calculator.” What I’ll do instead is discuss the types of damages that are recoverable in personal injury lawsuits filed in California.  That information will give you a better idea of your claim’s value.

In California, recoverable damages are compensatory damages.  See California Civil Code section 3333.  Compensatory damages are special damages and general damages.

Special Damages

Special damages are out-of-pocket expenses.  They exist on paper.  You should be able to total up the amount of these expenses.  Examples include medical expenses, loss of income, and property damage.

Medical expenses include bills for treatment, costs of prescription medications, costs of surgery, and costs of physical therapy.  It can also include the cost of future treatment.

Loss of income refers to the income you lost because of the accident.  Maybe you were unable to work for a period of time because of the accident.  Perhaps you missed work because of medical appointments.  A subcategory of loss of income includes impairment of earning capacity.  This refers to a decrease in a person’s ability to earn income.

Property damages are damage to your personal property, such as your car.

General Damages

General damages are for pain and suffering.  If special damages are proved, then general damages are presumed.  But the lack of special damages does not mean that a person cannot recover general damages.

General damages don’t exist on paper.  They are subjective.  Most of a claim’s value, however, is based on general damages.

Take two accidents.  The first is a low-impact car accident where a person suffers bruises.  The second is a fall where a person breaks a leg.  Based on that information alone, the second case has higher general damages than the first case because a broken leg causes more pain and suffering than bruises do.  More pain equals higher value.


The total of your special damages does help indicate the overall value of your claim.  Generally speaking, higher special damages equal a higher value claim.  What these “Personal Injury Settlement Calculators” do is take the total of your special damages, and multiply the total by a number like 1 or 3.

Although I understand the allure of it, I distrust formulaic approaches.  I think each case should be viewed on its merits.  Each case is different.  The facts are different.  The parties are different.  And the injuries are different.

The best approach is to total your special damages.  That total should be the floor of your claim.  In other words, you should not settle for anything less.  Of course, there are many qualifications to that statement.  But as a general rule, it’s a good place to start.

Questions? Contact Me for a free consultation.

Evan Walker

Evan W. Walker is a La Jolla attorney who has practiced law since 2008. He has practiced law throughout California, Connecticut, and Louisiana.

Evan worked for and defended insurance companies during the first 7 years of his practice. Since 2015, he has represented people with personal injury and property damage claims and insurance disputes.

Evan’s practice is devoted to serious personal injury claims and catastrophic property damage claims. Areas of focus include security claims against bars and other businesses, government tort claims, fire and flood claims, and inverse condemnation. On behalf of clients, Evan has fought insurance firms, international companies, cities, bars, and casinos.

Evan regularly shares his expertise with other attorneys by teaching courses on insurance and inverse condemnation. He has taught several continuing legal education courses to Attorney Credits, a nationwide CLE company, and ProLawCLE, another nationwide CLE company. He also contributes to various podcasts and publications.


  • Member, State Bar of California
  • Member, San Diego Bar Association
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of California
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego
  • Member, La Jolla Bar Association
  • Member, La Jolla Village Merchants Association
  • Member, San Diego Chamber of Commerce