The California electorate passed Proposition 213 (California Civil Code 3333) in 1996. Proposition 213 prevents certain classes of people from receiving non-economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit based on a car accident. The rule applies even if the person denied non-economic damages was not at fault for the accident. Proposition 213 is controversial, and under certain circumstances, its application could devastate your life.
Whom Does Proposition 213 Affect?
Absent an applicable exception, Proposition 213 prevents the following people from seeking non-economic damages:
- Uninsured motorists;
- Intoxicated drivers; and
- People in committing or fleeing from a felony (resulting in a denial of both economic and non-economic damages).
Many legal observers believe that this law unfairly benefits auto insurance companies. Meanwhile, uninsured motorists suffer unjust deprivation of compensation for accidents that they did not cause. Fortunately, many exceptions apply to this harsh general rule (see below).
What Are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages are intangible, abstract losses that are difficult to count, including:
- Damage to family relationships;
- Diminished quality of life;
- Disfigurement (extensive facial scarring, for example);
- Emotional distress (as long as you have an underlying physical injury that caused your distress);
- Loss of consortium (emotional and physical intimacy with a loved one);
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Pain and suffering from physical injury; and
- Permanent disabilities and impairments.
Remember that uninsured drivers, intoxicated drivers, and felons can still receive economic damages to the extent that the accident was not their fault. Non-economic damages often account for most of a personal injury award.
Was the Accident Your Fault?
Even before Proposition 213, California personal injury law barred injury victims from claiming any type of damages (economic, non-economic, or punitive) to the extent that the accident was their fault. All Proposition 213 does is bar you from seeking non-economic damages even if the accident wasn’t your fault.
In most cases, an accident that becomes the subject of a personal injury claim was caused by more than one party. As long as Proposition 213 doesn’t apply to you, you can collect non-economic damages to the extent that someone else caused the accident. If the other driver was 65% at fault, for example, they are liable for 65% of your damages, including your non-economic damages.
Can You Benefit From an Exception to Proposition 13’s Ban on Non-Economic Damages?
California law carves out numerous exceptions to Proposition 213’s ban on non-economic damages, including the following.
You can collect non-economic damages if you suffered an injury while driving your employer’s vehicle, even if it was uninsured. Employment is a necessity for many people, and you might legitimately fear the employment consequences of refusing an order to drive an uninsured vehicle.
You can claim non-economic damages for an accident that occurred while you were driving an uninsured vehicle that you borrowed from someone. The catch is that your own auto insurance has to be up to date. If it is, you will count as an insured driver even if the vehicle itself was uninsured.
You don’t have to be insured to collect non-economic damages you suffer as a passenger in an uninsured vehicle. An exception to this exception might occur if you were in the driver’s seat of your own uninsured vehicle, but the vehicle was parked at the time of the accident. In this case, California would consider you a driver, not a passenger; If you were intoxicated, the police could also charge you with DUI.
Additionally, the ban on non-economic damages would apply to you if you were a passenger in the back seat of your own uninsured vehicle (with a friend driving) at the time of the accident.
In California, certain relatives and financial dependents of wrongful death victims can sue for damages. As long as the accident wasn’t the victim’s fault, the relative or dependant can collect non-economic damages. This applies even if the victim was driving without insurance at the time of the accident.
California will not bar you from seeking non-economic damages for an injury that arose from an accident on private property. The rationale for this exception is that auto insurance is not required to drive on private property.
If an intoxicated driver injured you, California will not deny you non-economic damages. Note that this exception does not apply unless the state eventually convicted the driver of DUI over their role in the accident. The intoxicated driver will also be ineligible for non-economic damages even if the accident was partly your fault. This could reduce your liability.
California will not deny you non-economic damages if you can prove that a defect in the road caused your accident. In such a case, you would probably sue the government for damages.
California will not deny you non-economic damages if your injury arose from a manufacturing defect in your vehicle (your brake drums failed, for example).
What Damages Can You Receive If Proposition 213 Prevents You From Claiming Non-Economic Damages?
If Proposition 213 prevents you from claiming non-economic damages, you might still receive two types of damages: economic damages and punitive damages.
Economic damages are easily countable losses, including:
- Medical bills, including estimated future medical bills;
- Mental health counseling;
- Out-of-pocket expenses such as child care expenses;
- The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle;
- Your lost income, including losses arising from any permanent occupational disability; and
- Long-term care and home modifications, if your injuries require them.
The foregoing list is not necessarily exhaustive.
Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant, not compensate the victim. If a court awards punitive damages at all, the victim receives them on top of compensatory damages. You can still receive punitive damages even if Proposition 213 prevents you from seeking non-economic damages. The problem is that courts only rarely award punitive damages. For example, you might get punitive damages in an intentional road rage incident.
Contact a Lawyer Today
If you have been injured in a vehicle accident, you will face legal challenges regardless of whether you were at fault. You need an injury lawyer because pursuing a personal injury claim is more complex than contesting a ticket or appearing in small personal injury claims court.