California Tort Law

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 What Are Tort Laws in California?

Civil tort law refers to a considerably broad area of the law which addresses wrongdoing by one person against another. More specifically a tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, that causes harm or loss.

The purpose of tort law is to compensate victims, and ideally deter or discourage future wrongdoing. Tort law provides a way for injured parties to recover monetary damages for foreseeable harm that was caused by, or was the direct result of, the other party’s breach of their duty of care. The standard of care for civil tort liability is that of a reasonable person in a similar situation.

In a broad sense, wrongdoing includes things that:

  • Cause physical or economic injury,
  • Cause pain and suffering;
  • Violate privacy, property, or constitutional rights; and/or
  • Damage a reputation.

Some specific examples of the most common civil torts include:

  • Civil assault or civil battery;
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Trespass to land, or, real property;
  • Trespass to chattels, or, personal property;
  • Products liability;
  • Wrongful death;
  • Defamation;
  • Invasion of privacy; and
  • Negligence.

The most common type of tort lawsuit involves a claim of negligence. Negligence claims require showing that:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  • The defendant breached that duty; and
  • The breach caused the plaintiff some kind of harm or injury.

Some of the most common negligence tort examples include the following personal injury claims:

  • Slip and fall accidents;
  • Car, truck, or motorcycle accidents;
  • Bicycle accidents;
  • Medical malpractice; and
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress.

In a claim for personal injury, the plaintiff claims that they have sustained an injury due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. The injury may be either mental, physical, or both. In response, a court may award the plaintiff money damages for personal injury.

Mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish sustained by an accident. Physical injuries include injuries to the organs, limbs, or other parts of the anatomy. The injury that was sustained by a personal injury plaintiff does not need to manifest itself instantly, and as such may develop over time.

A personal injury may occur intentionally, such as when the defendant deliberately injures a victim, or intends to commit an act that the defendant knows will result in injury to someone else.

A personal injury may also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury is the result of someone’s negligence, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Auto accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice are some of the most common examples of negligence cases.

To reiterate, tort laws vary from state to state, as well as how tort law affects personal injury suits. Tort laws in the state of California specifically are further discussed below.

What Are Some Common Tort Cases in California?

California tort law is characterized by several aspects that differ from federal tort and personal injury laws, as well as the tort and personal injury laws of other states. The following list of California torts highlights some of the elements of California tort law that may be unique:

  • California Tort Claims Act: Generally speaking, local governments and government agencies are not subject to tort claims for monetary damages, largely due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The California Tort Claims Act allows individuals to bring tort claims against government entities, but only if a proper written claim is filed within 6 months of the alleged injury;
  • Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (“MICRA”): This act places a cap on the amount of monetary damages that a plaintiff may obtain for medical injuries. An example of this would be how the act limits recovery for non-economic damages, such as damages for pain and suffering, to a maximum of $250,000;
  • Evidence Guidelines: Collectively, California has made a number of changes to its evidence guidelines from the standard Federal Rules of Evidence. These changes are referred to as the “California Evidence Distinctions.” These changes can have a considerably large impact if a tort claim goes to trial, and are one of the reasons why it is important to consult an attorney that has extensive knowledge of California rules of evidence;
  • “Reckless Misconduct” Provisions: To reiterate, most states generally classify tort violations as being either an unintentional or breach of duty, or intentional acts. However, California includes a third category of liability, known as reckless misconduct or reckless conduct. Essentially, reckless misconduct is a willful disregard of the rights or safety of others. The addition of this intermediate and hybrid category can allow for a considerably higher amount of monetary recovery compared to a standard negligence claim; and
  • Comparative Negligence: California has adopted the doctrine of “pure comparative negligence,” which allows a jury to divide blame between the parties to the claim according to their individual actions. Under this legal theory, a plaintiff can recover even if they are more than 50% responsible for the harm that they experienced.

Additionally, California maintains specific laws associated with property damage. Property damage can result from many different types of accidents and incidents; some legal claims may involve injuries to a person’s body, as well as damage or destruction to their property.

Some of the most common forms of property damage include:

  • Damage to a car from a car crash or accident;
  • Burned walls, ceilings, or other parts of a home from a fire accident;
  • Items falling onto the roof of a home, such as a tree or the structure from another home;
  • Water damage, an example of which would be if a plumber negligently installs a water pipe that then bursts. Runoff from a neighbor’s property is another common source of water damage; and
  • Broken windows or glass.

In terms of vehicle accidents specifically, California law has determined that the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the date of the accident. The statute of limitations in which to file property damage claims in the state is three years.

What this means is that if you do not file a lawsuit within two years in order to recover compensation for your injuries, you have additional time in which to file a lawsuit in order to obtain compensation for property damage.

Is California Tort Law Unique in Any Way?

California tort reform, or the California “tort wars,” refers to the ongoing legal battles between California personal injury attorneys and corporate interests. Essentially, these disputes are associated with:

  • What specific acts actually constitute torts;
  • Who can sue over those acts; and
  • What monetary damages may be awarded for cases involving those torts.

An example of this would be how a 2022 ballot measure would effectively dissolve a 1975 California law which limits damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. Another ballot measure would place an updated limit of the fees that personal injury attorneys are allowed to claim.

Do I Need a California Lawyer for My Tort Law Claim?

If you live in California and are experiencing issues associated with a tort law claim, you should consult with a California tort lawyer. An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to the state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should legal action become necessary.

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