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What Is The Difference Between Economic and Non-Economic Damages?

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Damages” is a term in the legal field that typically refers to monetary compensation for loss or injury. The law typically seeks to make a claimant “whole” for a wrong through monetary compensation or damages, and there are both economic and non-economic damages that can be awarded.

Economic Damages

According to Florida state law, economic damages means financial losses that would have not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the action, including, but not limited to, past and future medical expenses, 80 percent of wage loss, and loss of earning capacity. In other words, direct financial loss via medical bills and an inability to work.

Non-Economic Damages

According to state law, non-economic damages refer to non financial losses that would not have occurred but for injury giving rise to the cause of action. They include pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life and other non financial losses. In other words, noneconomic damages entail compensation for harms that are not necessarily obvious in terms of figures and numbers; what money can be given to address physical and emotional distress, disfigurement, and any loss that could be suffered by your injury; or quality of life compensation.

Florida State Limits

While states do not usually limit economic damages because they correlate to quantifiable losses, many states limit non-economic damages, particularly medical malpractice damages.

Florida imposes limitations on collecting damages from the negligence of practitioners and on those related to emergency services and care (where practitioner means any person licensed or certified according to state law requirements or any association, corporation, firm, partnership, or other business entity under which such practitioner practices or any employee of such practitioner or entity acting in the scope of his or her employment. This covers any person or entity for whom a practitioner is vicariously liable and any person or entity whose liability is based solely on such person or entity being vicariously liable for the actions of a practitioner):

  • Noneconomic damages arising from the negligence of practitioners: cannot exceed $500,000 per claimant. Although, according to statute, noneconomic damages recoverable from all practitioners cannot exceed $1 million, in March 2014, the Florida Supreme Court held this cap to be unconstitutional in case involving wrongful death.
  • Noneconomic damages arising from the negligence of practitioners providing emergency services: cannot exceed $300,000 total against all practitioners.
  • Noneconomic damages arising from negligence of a practitioner providing services and care to a Medicaid recipient: cannot exceed $300,000 per claimant, unless claimant can prove that the practitioner acted in a wrongful manner.

Florida also imposes damage caps against non-practitioners:

  • Noneconomic damages cannot exceed $750,000 per claimant, whether a non practitioner is providing Emergency Services and Care or not. However, if the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state or death, the total noneconomic damages that can be collected from all non practitioners cannot exceed $1.5 million if the harm sustained was particularly severe and if the negligence caused a catastrophic injury to the patient (permanent impairment constituted by a spinal cord injury, an amputated limb, severe brain injury, or various other injuries).

Additional Damage Caps on the Horizon?

Just last year, a Florida jury awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages as part of a smoking lawsuit. Cynthia Robinson claimed that smoking killed her husband, Michael Johnson, in 1996. Johnson started smoking when he was 13 and died of lung cancer when he was 36. Mrs. Robinson argued that the tobacco company (R.J. Reynolds) was negligent in not informing him that nicotine is addictive and smoking can cause lung cancer. Robinson’s case was once part of a class-action lawsuit in which a jury had awarded $145 billion in damages, but in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court overturned that verdict, while at the same time, opening the door for individual lawsuits against tobacco companies.

The Florida State Legislature is currently considering a bill that would cap the amount of punitive damages that a claimant could collect against a defendant. SB 978 would limit the ability for claimants to recover punitive damages against defendants such as tobacco companies that have caused serious, permanent injuries to some plaintiffs. As of now, hundreds of thousands of Floridians that have suffered injuries that would allow them to file class-action lawsuits against tobacco companies for various injuries. If the legislation passes, the caps would apply to all civil actions in which judgment has not yet been entered, regardless of when the cause of action arose; causing concern that it would affect unsettled cases.

Seek Experienced Counsel

If you or a loved one has been injured, you should obtain the services of an attorney experienced in these types of cases. If you think you are only one of many who have been harmed in some way, you may be the one initiating a class action lawsuit.   An experienced class action attorney will be able to guide you through the process of a class action claim.

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