“Loss of quality of life” is part of a personal injury damages award. In California, it is not a separate element of your claim. Instead, it is part of a claim for “pain and suffering.”
Pain and suffering mean psychological harm that you suffered as a result of the accident or incident that injured you (including physical pain). Carefully documenting all the ways that your quality of life suffered because of an accident will help you win a large pain and suffering award.
What Is “Pain and Suffering”?
In California, pain and suffering must arise from a physical injury.
Once you establish the existence of a physical injury, however, you can collect for:
- Physical pain;
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Worry; and
- Other forms of emotional distress
Pure emotional distress, without an underlying physical injury, does not generate damages for “pain and suffering.” It is possible, however, to file a lawsuit for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” without an underlying physical injury.
Calculating the Value of Your Loss of Quality of Life Claim
Just about everyone has an intuitive understanding of what “quality of life” means. Fortunately, the legal meaning of this term is consistent with its common-sense meaning.
Loss of quality of life typically occurs after a person suffers a catastrophic injury (quadriplegia, for example) that dramatically affects their lifestyle. Some of the kinds of losses that make up such a claim include:
- Loss of hobbies. You are unable to play the violin anymore, for example.
- Loss of companionship. You might no longer be able to attend or enjoy get-togethers with friends or family.
- Loss of travel opportunities. Your condition might prevent you from traveling or place such onerous restrictions on travel that you no longer enjoy it.
- Loss of career. This is not lost earnings (which you can claim separately). It’s the inability to still hold the same type of job altogether.
- Loss of opportunity to participate in volunteer activities.
- Loss of independence. You might not be able to shave, eat, or walk without assistance, for example.
- Loss of the ability to interact with your children, especially if they are small.
- Loss of quality in your marriage, including but not limited to loss of sexual relations. Do not confuse this with “loss of consortium,” which is a similar claim that an accident victim’s spouse can file.
- Damage to your reputation.
Many other losses can potentially qualify as “loss of quality of life.”
Factors That Determine the Amount of Your Award
Many factors, other than the foregoing factors, influence the ultimate value of a “loss of quality of life” claim. Below are a few examples.
The Victim’s Quality of Life Before the Accident
To measure the loss of quality of life and translate it into economic damages, a court needs to know two things:
- The level of your quality of life before the accident; and
- The level of your quality of life after the accident.
The extent to which your quality of life dropped after your accident would merit compensation only if it was the accident that caused the drop. The better the victim’s quality of life before the accident, the more compensation they are likely to qualify for.
The Severity and Duration of the Injury
A severe injury, such as an injury causing the victim to be bedridden 24/7, or causing the victim to lose intelligence or the ability to communicate, will inevitably enhance the value of a “loss of quality of life” claim. A lifelong condition will also tend to add to the value of the claim because it means the victim will endure the loss for a longer period of time.
The Age of the Victim
The younger the victim is, the more money courts will award for loss of quality of life, assuming that the injuries are permanent. After all, the younger the victim is, the longer they must endure a diminished quality of life.
Comparative fault factors in when the accident that led to the injury was partly the victim’s fault. In California, the victim will lose damages in direct proportion to their percentage of fault for the accident (25%, for example). The victim might also have to pay a portion of the defendant’s damages (if any).
If you are relying on an insurance policy to pay your claim, you normally cannot receive any settlement that exceeds the limits of the insurance policy. If the insured defendant has no financial resources, it might be impossible to receive the full value of your claim. Some defendants, such as large businesses, commercial truckers, and on-duty Uber drivers, can pay large claims because they have ample financial resources or because they are very well-insured.
In a personal injury claim, it’s not just whether you win or lose; it’s how much you win. You might call it a win if you settle for $100,000. It’s not really a win, however, if the true value of your claim is $250,000.
A skilled personal injury attorney can calculate the real value of your claim, most of which might be based on loss of quality of life. And remember, just about any personal injury lawyer won’t charge you any legal fees unless you recover compensation from the defendant.