Characterizing Personal Injury Damages
Under Section 780 of the Family Code, “money and other property received
or to be received by a married person in satisfaction of a judgment for
damages for personal injuries, or pursuant to an agreement for the settlement
or compromise of a claim for such damages, is community property if the
cause of action for the damages arose during the marriage.”
According to Section 781 of the Family Code, personal injury damages are
considered the separate property of the injured spouse if their cause
of action arose after the spouses’ divorce or while they were living
separately from the other spouse.
The General Rule Under California Family Code § 2603
Section 2603 of the California Family Code provides that personal injury
damages that qualify as community property (“community estate personal
injury damages”) are typically awarded to the party who suffered
the injuries. However, Section 2603 also recognizes that community estate
personal injury damages may be distributed to the other spouse under certain
Factors the court considers when deciding whether to divide personal injury
damages under Section 2603 include:
- Each party’s financial condition and economic needs
- How much time elapsed between the accrual of the cause of action and recovering damages
- Other factors related to the “interests of justice”
A key issue when determining the community or separate property character
of personal injury damages at divorce is establishing when the cause of
action for personal injury arose. In general, a cause of action for personal
injury arises when the wrongful act was committed. However, the accrual
date might differ depending on the type of personal injury claimed.
For example, in the context of applying the statute of limitations, the
accrual date for personal injuries arising out of a healthcare provider’s
professional negligence (medical malpractice) is the date of injury or
whenever the plaintiff discoveres – or should have discovered –
When Personal Injury Damges are Not Considered Separate Property
There is an important exception to the general rule that personal injury
damages constitute the separate property of the injured spouse. When the
uninjured spouse pays expenses from their separate property or community
property funds, they may be entitled to reimbursement for those expenses.
In most cases, the injured spouse’s medical expenses and hospital
bills will be paid out of community property funds and insurance proceeds.
Furthermore, community funds are typically used to pay the premiums for
the couple’s health insurance policy.
Retain the Service of a Skilled Lawyer from Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich
Property division can be complicated. That’s why you can benefit
from the professional counsel of a skilled divorce attorney from
Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. For decades, we have litigated various family law issues in Southern
California, including how to divide personal injury damages upon divorce.
We are dedicated to providing you with quality legal representation to
protect your legal rights and promote your best interests.
Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654 or
complete our online request form to arrange a free consultation about your case today.