California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

3901. Introduction to Tort Damages - Liability Established

If you decide that [name of plaintiff] was harmed and that [name of defendant]'s [insert description of cause of action, e.g., "negligence"] was a substantial factor in causing the harm, you also must decide how much money will reasonably compensate [name of plaintiff] for the harm. This compensation is called "damages."

The amount of damages must include an award for each item of harm that was caused by [name of defendant]'s wrongful conduct, even if the particular harm could not have been anticipated.

[Name of plaintiff] does not have to prove the exact amount of damages that will provide reasonable compensation for the harm. However, you must not speculate or guess in awarding damages.

[The following are the specific items of damages claimed by [name of plaintiff]:]

[Insert applicable instructions on items of damage.]

Directions for Use

This instruction is intended for cases in which the defendant "admits" liability, but contests causation and damages. See CACI No. 424, Negligence Not Contested—Essential Factual Elements.

Read last bracketed sentence and insert instructions on items of damage here only if CACI No. 3902, Economic and Noneconomic Damages, is not being read. If CACI No. 3902 is not used, this instruction should be followed by applicable instructions (see CACI Nos. 3903A through 3903N, and CACI No. 3905A) concerning the items of damage claimed by the plaintiff. These instructions should be inserted into this instruction as sequentially numbered items.

Read CACI No. 430, Causation: Substantial Factor, as the definition of "substantial factor."

Sources and Authority

Civil Code section 3333 provides: "For the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, the measure of damages, except where otherwise xpressly provided by this code, is the amount which will compensate for all the detriment proximately caused thereby, whether it could have been anticipated or not."

Civil Code section 3281 provides: "Every person who suffers detriment from the unlawful act or omission of another, may recover from the person in fault a compensation therefor in money, which is called damages."

Civil Code section 3283 provides: "Damages may be awarded, in a judicial proceeding, for detriment resulting after the commencement thereof, or certain to result in the future."

Civil Code section 3359 provides: "Damages must, in all cases, be reasonable, and where an obligation of any kind appears to create a right to unconscionable and grossly oppressive damages, contrary to substantial justice, no more than reasonable damages can be recovered."

Under Civil Code section 3333 "[t]ort damages are awarded to compensate a plaintiff for all of the damages suffered as a legal result of the defendant's wrongful conduct." (North American Chemical Co. v. Superior Court (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 764, 786 [69 Cal.Rptr.2d 466], italics omitted.)

"Whatever its measure in a given case, it is fundamental that 'damages which are speculative, remote, imaginary, contingent, or merely possible cannot serve as a legal basis for recovery.' However, recovery is allowed if claimed benefits are reasonably certain to have been realized but for the wrongful act of the opposing party." (Piscitelli v. Friedenberg (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 953, 989 [105 Cal.Rptr.2d 88], internal citations omitted.)

"In general, one who has been tortiously injured is entitled to be compensated for the harm and the injured party must establish 'by proof the extent of the harm and the amount of money representing adequate compensation with as much certainty as the nature of the tort and the circumstances permit.' However, '[there] is no general requirement that the injured person should prove with like definiteness the extent of the harm that he has suffered as a result of the tortfeasor's conduct. It is desirable that responsibility for harm should not be imposed until it has been proved with reasonable certainty that the harm resulted from the wrongful conduct of the person charged. It is desirable, also, that there be definiteness of proof of the amount of damage as far as is reasonably possible. It is even more desirable, however, that an injured person not be deprived of substantial ompensation merely because he cannot prove with complete certainty the extent of harm he has suffered.' " (Clemente v. State of California (1985) 40 Cal.3d 202, 219 [219 Cal.Rptr. 445, 707 P.2d 818], internal citations omitted.)

"If plaintiff's inability to prove his damages with certainty is due to defendant's actions, the law does not generally require such proof." (Clemente, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 219.)

"While a defendant is liable for all the damage that his tortuous act proximately causes to the plaintiff, regardless of whether or not it could have been anticipated, nevertheless a proximate causal connection must still exist between the damage sustained by the plaintiff and the defendant's wrongful act or omission, and the detriment inflicted on the plaintiff must still be the natural and probable result of the defendant's conduct." (Chaparkas v. Webb (1960) 178 Cal.App.2d 257, 260 [2 Cal.Rptr. 879].)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (9th ed. 1988) Torts, §§ 1319-1326

4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 50, Damages, § 50.02 (Matthew Bender)

California Tort Damages (Cont.Ed.Bar 1988) Bodily Injury, §§ 1.2-1.6

15 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 177, Damages (Matthew Bender)

6 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 65, Damages (Matthew Bender)

1 Bancroft-Whitney's California Civil Practice (1992) Torts, § 5:1

(Revised June 2005)