Are Florida Personal Injury Lawsuits Subject to Damage Caps?

Trying to figure out how much your Florida personal injury lawsuit may be worth? It’s typically one of the first questions West Palm Beach injury lawyers are asked. Many factors are weighed in the answers we give, and one of those is the possibility of damage caps. West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer

“Damages” is legalese for the amount of money paid to someone who has been wronged by another. A damage “cap” is a cutoff, the maximum amount a person can receive for certain types of damages. There are two main types of damages in Florida personal injury cases: Compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are paid to compensate an individual for their losses. (Within compensatory damages, there are economic damages, which are actual financial losses like medical bills, lost wages, etc., and then there are non-economic damages, which are for non-tangible impacts like pain and suffering and mental anguish.) Punitive damages are paid to punish the wrongdoer for especially egregious conduct.

Generally speaking, Florida doesn’t impose damage caps on economic damages, but does for punitive damages and some types of non-economic damages. However, this assertion comes with a few caveats. Certain types of claims against certain defendants may be subject to caps on economic damages as well. With some claims, non-economic damages aren’t even considered — and punitive damages are usually a long-shot.

Working with an experienced West Palm Beach injury lawyer can help ensure you receive the maximum among of fair compensation allowable under Florida law.

Non-Economic Damages in Car Accident PIP Claims

When it comes to auto insurance, Florida is a no-fault state. That doesn’t mean you can’t sue a driver who caused a crash that resulted in serious injuries. You can – often collecting both economic and non-economic damages (though rarely punitive damages, unless it was a DUI case). But it does mean most injured drivers/passengers are first going to have to file a claim with their own personal injury protection (PIP) insurer.

Per F.S. 627.736, PIP provides coverage for a portion of your economic damages – namely medical bills and lost wages – up to $10,000. It also offers up to $5,000 in death benefits. However, it does not cover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress. (Injured motorcyclists won’t have access to PIP coverage at all.)

Damage Caps on Tort Claims Against Government Defendants

F.S. 768.28 waives sovereign immunity of Florida government agencies in tort lawsuits (claims for a wrongful act or infringement of a right). That means the state government and its agencies and subdivisions (i.e., schools, police agencies, government hospitals, utility workers, etc.) can be sued in personal injury or wrongful death cases just like anybody else – so long as the wrongful act or omission involved someone who was acting in the course and scope of employment for the state.

However, as noted in F.S. 768.28(5)(a), the state, its agency and subdivisions cannot be liable for any punitive damages. Furthermore, the state can’t pay out a tort judgment to any one person in an amount over $200,000 or for any single act in an amount over $300,000. If you take your case to court and the jury awards more than that amount, the only way to actually collect on the excess amount is by successfully lobbying for a special bill to be passed by the state legislature.

In 2023, state representatives sought to increase those figures to $2.5 million per person and $5 million per incident (which would be more in line with today’s inflation) in HB 401. However, that bill died in committee.

Damage Caps in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases

The question of damage caps in Florida medical malpractice cases is one that has gone back and forth. In 2003, Florida lawmakers imposed a damage cap on non-economic damages in Florida medical malpractice cases. Those were later removed in rulings by the Florida Supreme Court.

Recently, however, lawmakers again imposed limitations on non-economic damages for negligence of healthcare practitioners. F.S. 766.118 explains that in any action for personal injury or wrongful death arising from medical malpractice, non-economic damages should not exceed $500,000 per claimant. No single practitioner should be liable for more than $500,000 — regardless of how many plaintiffs.

In rare cases, non-economic damages could be increased to a maximum of $1 million for severe, catastrophic injuries (as determined by the court). But even so, the total noneconomic damages recoverable by all claimants from all defendants can’t exceed $1 million total.

For medical malpractice claims against non-practitioners (ex: a manager of a nursing home), noneconomic damages can’t exceed $750,000 per claimant and no more than $1.5 million total (and that can only be awarded in special circumstances).

Damage Caps on Punitive Damages in Florida

Punitive damages are never a given in a Florida personal injury or wrongful death case. The trial court actually must give permission for the claimant to ask for it, and it’s only allowable in cases where the defendant committed an intentional wrong or was grossly negligent.

But even then, per F.S. 768.73, punitive damages cannot exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages OR $500,000 (whichever is greater). The only exception is if the court finds that the defendant was motivated solely for unreasonable financial gain, punitive damages can reach four times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to each claimant OR $2 million, whichever is greater.

If you are considering filing a Florida personal injury lawsuit and have questions about what these rules could mean for your case, our West Palm Beach personal injury lawyers can provide answers and insight.

Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.

Additional Resources:

Determination of Non-Economic Damages, F.S. 766.118

More Blog Entries:

CDC: 1 in 5 Women Report Mistreatment During Maternity Care, Feb. 20, 2024, West Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog

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