The Differences Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

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According to Florida law, the type of personal injury damages that form the foundation of most lawsuits are compensatory and punitive damages.

Victims or their surviving family members, in the case of a fatal accident, are entitled to both types of compensation.

The compensatory damages received by victims of personal injury accidents in Florida generally include economic damages, like medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity where applicable, as well as non-economic compensation that refers to the non-material losses, like mental anguish, loss of consortium, etc.

What Are Economic Compensatory Damages?

Economic compensatory damages are the quantifiable and documentable expenses that can be calculated and you suffered out of your pocket or out of your future. The value of economic damages does not change when being submitted to jury evaluation but they do vary from personal injury case to personal injury case and include compensation for a wide array of expenses and losses.

Examples of economic damages:

  • Past and future medical expenses. These are monetary losses, bills that arise out of the injuries caused by the accident, expenses of necessary medical care, hospitalization, and treatment. They can include fees for emergency room visits, surgery, assistive devices, and appointments with medical professionals. Future medical expenses are related to the injuries you suffered in the accident and can be determined usually through an expert's testimony.
  • Past and future loss of income. When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you can recover the wages lost from the time of the accident until the conclusion of the lawsuit.
  • Lost earning capacity. Damages for lost earning capacity can be recovered when you can prove, also through expert testimony, that your ability to work has been negatively impacted by the injuries.
  • Vocational rehabilitation. The assessment of your needs for vocational rehabilitation can help you prove to a judge or jury that you suffered damages because you cannot return to the same work you had before being injured.
  • The reasonable value of household services. Household services incorporate the costs of hiring someone to do household chores, while you are recuperating.

What Are Non-Economic Compensatory Damages?

Non-economic damages are related to abstract, intangible injuries and, therefore, harder to quantify in dollar value.

Examples of non-economic damages:

  • Pain and suffering. The compensation for pain and suffering and inconvenience depends on the extent of your injuries. In unfortunate events such as car accidents, this type of compensation can only be pursued for significant and permanent loss injuries or death. It's hard to put a dollar amount on your pain and suffering. That's why, you could prove pain and suffering with your medical bills, records, and pictures of your scars.
  • Mental anguish and emotional distress. This type of non-economic damages covers different forms of emotional distress that resulted from your accident, for example, shock, humiliation, or embarrassment.
  • Loss of consortium. This type of compensation can be awarded for loss of marital benefits, including companionship, sexual relations, affection, and comfort.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life and inconvenience. Due to the injury, maybe you can no longer enjoy the activities you were previously able to enjoy. For example, you may no longer be able to dance or play sports, and this alteration of lifestyle can make it harder to enjoy your life.

What Are Punitive Damages?

In Miami, Florida, punitive awards are rare. Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, are a form of punishing the wrongdoer but are only awarded in certain circumstances, for example, to set a public example.

Punitive damages are neither economic nor noneconomic damages:

  • they are not awarded to compensate for any loss
  • they are generally awarded in addition to compensatory damages
  • their role is to discourage the party at fault from engaging in the type of conduct that led to the lawsuit in question.

What is particular to Florida lawsuits is that you may receive punitive damage awards only when you're able to prove that intentional misconduct or gross negligence caused your accident and injuries:

  • The defendant's actions were grossly negligent when the defendant was extremely reckless or careless. This includes, for example, behavior that constitutes indifference to life, safety, and the rights of others.
  • The defendant's actions were intentional when the defendant knew that the behavior was wrong or dangerous and that someone would likely be injured by it.

In Florida, the amount of punitive damages is capped at $500,000 or an award of up to three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is higher. To determine the amount, in most cases, the jury is informed to look for both objective and subjective factors, such as:

  • The nature of the plaintiff's injury
  • How harmful was the defendant's misconduct
  • What amount would deter the defendant from future misconduct

For example, punitive damages may be awarded in a product liability case where the defendant is a manufacturer of personal hygiene products that not only mass-distributed a potentially fatal product but also failed to warn consumers about dangers it was well aware of.

How Can a Miami Personal Injury Attorney Help With Your Claim?

Determining compensatory damages and punitive damages are complex aspects of your case.

To recover the maximum compensation available for your personal injury, car accident, or product liability case, you'll have to prove the existence and extent of your injuries when the case goes in front of a judge or jury.

It is important to work with an experienced attorney who can help you prove these losses and expenses and to have a successful claim. Contact Sean M. Cleary, Miami personal injury lawyer, who has a vast experience in personal injury cases.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided on this site is not formal legal advice, also the site does not allow you to form an attorney-client relationship.