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.
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 circumstances.
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 claim.
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 discoveries – or should have discovered – the injury.
When Personal Injury Damages 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.