Meaning of Damages
Damages is a legal term whose meaning may not be clear to many. Essentially, the meaning of damages in a legal sense is the financial loss someone suffers because of the action of another. For example, if you are in a car accident and are admitted to the hospital, your hospital bills, car repair costs, and other financial losses you suffered because of the accident are your damages.
But damages are not limited to an actual financial loss suffered in a situation. Legally, damages can also be an estimation of what future losses are because of the actions of another. For instance, if you are injured in a way that makes work impossible for you, the person responsible for your injury may have to pay for money you would have otherwise earned had you not been injured.
These kinds of financial losses are the 'actual damages' that a person suffers; but punitive damages are different. For example, in 2000 a Florida jury ordered a group of tobacco companies to pay $145 billion in punitive damages to people who were damaged by smoking. That case is an example of a jury punishing a company for how they acted.
The Difference between Punitive Damages and Actual Damages
Punitive damages are so named because they act as a way to punish someone who causes harm to another. But not every case will include a claim for punitive damages. Generally speaking, mere negligence does not rise to level of conduct that punitive damages seeks to punish. So for example, if you own a store and fail to clean up a spill because you forgot, and someone slips on that spill and is hurt, the law will require you to compensate the injured person for their actual damages, but the law won't punish the store owner for merely being negligent. To rise the level where the law punishes a person, Florida law requires a person to act with intentional misconduct, or with gross negligence. Florida law also lets a jury decide whether punitive damages will be assessed in a case.
Intentional misconduct has to cause damage to someone before it can be turned into punitive damages. Legally speaking, intentional misconduct means a person actually knew that what they did was wrong, and that they would hurt someone with their actions.
Gross negligence is similar to intentional misconduct. The legal meaning of gross negligence is that a person acts in a way that is so reckless that it is the same as a conscious indifference to the harm it might cause someone else.
If you have a personal injury case, make sure you hire an attorney that will fight for all of the damages you have suffered. In Panama City, The Pittman Firm is a professional firm that will help you decide whether punitive damages apply to your case or not.