What are the Damage Caps in Florida?
Insurance companies and their powerful lobby have conditioned the public to ask, how much justice is too much justice? The answer is simple, justice should have no limit. If a victim dies or is severely injured because of someone else’s careless or reckless behavior, their families should not face arbitrary limits on compensation. In fact, one can argue that damage caps promote reckless behavior by failing to hold wrongdoers accountable.
The insurance lobby and our Governor tried to take away access to courts by limiting the amount of damages that are recoverable for certain acts. The theory, as sold to the public, is that the state wants to make sure that negligent people aren’t forced to pay unreasonable amounts. Of course, the problem with that is twofold. First and foremost, what are unreasonable amounts? Secondly, Insurance rates never quite seem to go down, even with damage caps in place.
Florida’s limitations on damages has been in flux over the last few years, particularly where medical malpractice, birth injury, and wrongful death claims are concerned. Let’s take a look at the current state of the law regarding damage caps in Florida.
Three Primary Kinds of Damages
Before we delve into the current law, it’s important to consider the different kinds of damages available to victims and their families. When we talk about the caps on damages in Florida, we’re generally thinking about non-economic caps.
These are monetary losses that the plaintiff has incurred in the past or will incur in the future. Economic damages are typically concrete and easily proven. Examples include medical bills, property damage, and lost wages.
These damages are at the battleground of all tort reformers. They are what are often called pain and suffering damages. Examples include pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, disability, loss of support or companionship, and diminished quality of life.
Punitive damages are conceptually different from any other kind of compensation. They aren’t based on the plaintiff’s losses but on the defendant’s bad behavior. Punitive damages exist solely to punish the defendant and to deter others from similar bad behavior in the future. The amount of the award usually depends on the severity of the conduct in question, as well as the defendant’s overall wealth. The idea is that very wealthy defendants should have to pay larger penalties so that they truly feel the “sting” of the punishment.
Florida’s Limits on Each Kind of Damages
As a general rule, Florida does not apply caps to economic damages. If the plaintiff can prove that he or she suffered economic losses at the fault of the defendant, the defendant must pay for the full value of those losses, however great they may be. By working with experienced injury attorneys, you can make sure that you recover every penny of economic damages.
But like many other states, Florida has historically been more reluctant to allow unlimited awards when it comes to non-economic or punitive damages.
Until recently, for example, non-economic damages in wrongful death suits related to medical malpractice were capped at $1 million. But just last year, the state Supreme Court struck down that cap as unconstitutional, opening the door for much larger jury verdicts. Indeed, the ramifications of that ruling are still unfolding in cases all around the state.
Furthermore, on July 1, 2015, the 4th District Court of Appeals in Florida held that damage caps in all medical malpractice cases, not just wrongful death cases, were unconstitutional. That includes both economic and non-economic damages.
Punitive damages, meanwhile, are still subject to certain limitations in Florida, as follows:
- If the defendant specifically intended to harm the plaintiff, there is no limit on punitive damages.
- If the defendant did not intend the harm but nevertheless knew that harm was highly likely, and the defendant acted in an unreasonably dangerous manner that was motivated solely by financial gain, punitive damages are limited to four times the value of the compensatory damages (economic + non-economic) awarded to each claimant or $2 million.
- In all other cases, punitive damages are limited to three times the value of the compensatory damages (economic + non-economic) awarded to each claimant or $500,000. (Certain exceptions may apply.)
Consult with the Injury Attorneys at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC
If you’re considering a potential medical malpractice, birth injury, or wrongful death lawsuit in Florida, you likely want to know what your maximum potential recovery will be, and that’s a fair question to ask. Unfortunately, the answer depends on a number of factors that need to be carefully considered by an experienced attorney.
The most important thing to understand is that victims’ cases are often worth much more than they realize. Never underestimate the value of your loss. If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence, you deserve comprehensive compensation — and that often adds up to much more than plaintiffs expect.
When you work with Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, you can rest assured that our attorneys are working tirelessly to recover maximum compensation for your claim. We will work with expert witnesses and explore every avenue to establish the full value of your claim.
To get a better understanding about what damages you are entitled to recover, and whether you might be subject to any of the caps on damages in Florida, you can schedule a quick and easy consultation with our office. It’s convenient and free of charge. We’re here to help injured Floridians and their families, so please contact us today. We’re just a click or a phone call away.