In personal injury cases, a plaintiff may be entitled to compensatory damages, in addition to non-economic damages. Compensatory damages aim to restore the plaintiff to the economic state enjoyed before the accident. Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are designed to account for the physical and mental discomfort of personal injury victims. Although rarely awarded, plaintiffs may also recover punitive damages in certain circumstances. Punitive damages serve a special role in personal injury litigation. Punitive damages are available where a defendant's reckless or even criminal conduct causes serious harm to another.
If you are currently involved in a personal injury case, or want to know the types of compensation to which you may be entitled, it will help to understand the difference between economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages, also known as compensatory damages, can be easily quantified in most situations. These damages include medical expenses sustained as a result of a negligent or wrongful act. In most cases, plaintiffs have little difficulty proving and verifying medical expenses. Damage to property is also recoverable. In the case of property damage, an appraiser would usually assess the damage and a plaintiff will seek to recover the loss of value. Loss of wages, as well as loss of earning potential, may be recovered to compensate a personal injury victim for the economic impact of the accident.
In wrongful death actions, compensatory damages may also include loss of support, as well as future loss of support. However, it is imperative to remember that all recoverable economic damages must be calculated with a reasonable degree of certainty. Plaintiffs must establish a factual basis to justify an award of compensatory damages.
In Florida, non-economic damages, such as physical pain and suffering, are recoverable in a personal injury action. Mental suffering is also recoverable. Specifically, a victim may be awarded damages for emotional distress, anxiety, shock, or depression. In wrongful death suits, non-economic damages may include recovery for loss of companionship and loss of consortium.
The calculation of non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, is often a difficult task for jurors. How can one accurately quantify the physical and emotional pain of a victim? Recognizing the difficulty faced in calculating physical and mental suffering, jurors are generally instructed to be fair and reasonable when calculating these damages.
In rare cases, punitive damages are also awarded. Punitive damages are sought when personal injury or death is caused by an individual's reckless or gross negligent actions. When the conduct of an individual shows a clear indifference to the safety of others, punitive damages are usually appropriate. Under Florida law, an individual may be held liable for punitive damages if a jury, based upon clear and convincing evidence, determines that the individual engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence.
Punitive damages, unlike other recoverable damages, are awarded based upon the conduct of the defendant rather than the injury to the plaintiff. These damages are designed to punish reckless conduct and deter others from participating in reckless or gross negligent conduct. Punitive damages are awarded in conjunction with compensatory damages.
Punitive damages should be reasonable and may not be grossly excessive. The U.S. Supreme Court opined that punitive damages must be reasonable and necessary to promote the State's interest in punishment and deterrence. BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996). The Court also found that grossly excessive punitive damages violated substantive due process rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Have you suffered injuries due to the negligence of someone else? Do not be intimidated by a defense attorney and do not go it alone. A consultation with Panama City personal injury lawyer Wes Pittman is always free and injury cases are typically handled on a contingency basis, meaning you only pay our firm if you recover money. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation so we can put our knowledge and experience to work for you.