Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Types of Damages Am I Entitled To Under Florida Law After I've Suffered a Personal Injury?

As Plaintiffs’ attorneys, our sole purpose when we walk into the courtroom is to obtain money damages for our client’s injuries. In our system of justice, one that is no longer “eye for an eye,” money damages are the only means by which our system allows a plaintiff to be compensated for his or her injuries. With that being said, it is critical that a plaintiff’s lawyer has a thorough understanding of the damages that are available in each case and how to pursue them. Below are three main categories of damages in Florida:

Economic Damages

The easiest type of damages to understand, calculate and ultimately prevail on are what are known as “economic damages.” These damages include claims for past loss wages, past medical bills, future medical bills and loss of earning capacity. Losses that you’ve incurred in the past as a result of the collision can easily be calculated within a degree of certainty. Damages for future medical expenses and loss of earning capacity can be established using expert testimony as to the cost of treatment and need for future care.

Non-Economic Damages

“Non-economic” damages are the damages given to a plaintiff for the pain and suffering he or she has been through as a result of the collision or incident giving rise to the claim for personal injuries. These types of damages are your “loss of enjoyment of life” damages. They are intangible in nature, however, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, there are many ways to go about illustrating your client’s intangible losses to the jury.

Punitive Damages

"Punitive damages," as the name implies, are damages that the jury awards in essence to “punish” the defendant when the defendant engages in “intentional misconduct” or “gross negligence.” Punitive damages are also awarded in order to deter both the defendant and others moving forward from engaging in the same conduct. Because these types of damages are meant to punish the defendant, a plaintiff can only make a claim for them in certain circumstances under Florida law. Florida statute Section 768.72 specifically outlines how a plaintiff can bring a claim for punitive damages and when a defendant may be held liable for same. It’s important to understand when and under what circumstances one may bring a claim for punitive damages.
Under Florida law,

“ ‘intentional misconduct’  means that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage to the claimant would result and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage and
‘gross negligence’ means that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.”
The statutory definitions make clear that a plaintiff will only be allowed to claim punitive damages against a defendant when the defendant’s conduct is more than merely negligent. In order to succeed on a claim for punitive damages, the plaintiff must come forward before a judge prior to trial with evidence that the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or that the defendant engaged in intentional misconduct under the statute. If the judge determines that the plaintiff has made a sufficient showing, then evidence of the defendant’s misconduct or gross negligence can be presented to the jury at trial for consideration. Significantly, the burden of proof that the plaintiff must carry to succeed on a claim for punitive damages is greater than general damages. While the burden of proof in a civil personal injury claim is generally a “preponderance of the evidence” or “greater weight of the evidence” standard, meaning that in order for the plaintiff to prevail on his claim he only needs the scale to tip ever so slightly in his favor (51% will be sufficient), the burden of proof for claiming punitive damages is higher. Rather than a “preponderance” or “greater weight of the evidence” standard, in a claim for punitive damages a plaintiff must meet the “clear and convincing evidence” standard. While not as high as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard necessary to maintain a guilty conviction in a criminal case, the “clear and convincing” standard nonetheless places a heavy burden on a plaintiff seeking punitive damages than he would have to meet otherwise.

Contact Dolman Law Group

Damages play a critical role in a plaintiff’s personal injury claim. Knowing which damages you may be entitled to and how to best maximize your damages in order to obtain the best recovery possible is key. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group are well versed in pursuing all avenues available in order to ensure that an injury victim is compensated to the fullest extent possible. For more information, call Dolman Law Group 727-451-6900.

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