When someone injures you through their own misconduct, you are entitled to damages (compensation). Florida’s civil compensation system offers three types of damages — economic damages, non-economic damages, and occasionally punitive damages. Non-economic damages can account for most of the value of a personal injury claim in some cases.
What’s the Difference Between Economic Damages and Non-Economic Damages?
A simple rule of thumb that will allow you to tell the difference between economic damages and non-economic damages is that economic damages are easy to quantify.
Examples of Economic Damages
Frequently claimed economic damages include:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost earnings;
- Child care expenses; and
- Housekeeping expenses.
A serious accident might generate all of these items and more. You can even claim minor items such as parking expenses at the hospital.
Examples of Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages tend to be intangible and psychological. Some examples of non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Mental anguish;
- Disfigurement (psychological aspects such as shame, social isolation, etc.);
- Loss of the use of a limb;
- Loss of consortium (loss of sexual relations with your spouse, for example); and
- General loss of enjoyment of life (inability to exercise or engage in hobbies, etc.).
The stark reality is that no amount of money can compensate you for some of these losses. How could money compensate you for loss of enjoyment of life, for example?
Nevertheless, these items are all considered redressable losses, even if money is the only form of redress available. Courts can award non-economic damages in amounts that greatly exceed the amount they award for economic damages.
Claims for Which Non-Economic Damages Are Difficult to Obtain
Non-economic damages are forbidden for certain types of personal injury claims. The Florida legislature has tried, for example, to limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims so that these expenses would not be passed on to patients.
Although the Florida Supreme Court struck down limitations on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, severe legal and practical obstacles remain for non-economic damages in workplace injury cases and in car accident cases.
The workers’ compensation system covers employee work-related injury claims against employers, regardless of whose fault the accident was. Unfortunately, workers’ compensation covers claims for economic damages but not claims for non-economic damages. However, if you can find a third party (other than your employer) whose misconduct caused your injury, you can still file a claim for non-economic damages.
Florida operates a no-fault car accident compensation system. This means that in most cases, you rely on your own PIP insurance, which covers only economic damages. Although you can seek non-economic damages from the at-fault driver if your injuries are serious enough, Florida does not require motorists to carry bodily injury liability insurance. What this means in practice is that the other driver might not be able to pay for your non-economic damages.
The good news is that if the defendant was a commercial truck driver, an Uber/Lyft driver, or an on-duty employee of a large company, you could obtain all of your non-economic damages. Truck drivers and Uber/Lyft drivers are typically well-insured, while you can often sue large companies for the misconduct of their on-duty employees.
How to Calculate Non-Economic Damages
How do you calculate psychological damages such as pain and suffering or loss of consortium? Although there is a certain amount of arbitrariness involved, certain rational factors do apply, including:
- The severity of your condition. If your loss causes you intense suffering, such as severe road rash after a motorcycle accident, you are entitled to more non-economic damages than someone who develops a minor dog bite injury.
- The length of time that your condition continues. A lifetime of chronic back pain, for example, might entitle you to more compensation than a soft tissue injury that clears up in a few weeks.
- The extent to which your injuries force you to modify your lifestyle. Your losses might be huge, for example, if you are a former triathlete who now struggles to walk around the block., or if you are a former model who suffers from debilitating facial disfigurement.
Different juries might place radically different values on each of these factors, which is why defendants are usually eager to settle out of court.
The Per Diem Method vs. the Multiplier Method for Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages
The following two methods are commonly used to calculate non-economic damages for pain and suffering:
- Per Diem Method. For this method, you start with a daily value for your pain and suffering ($75 per day, for example) and multiply it by the number of days that you suffered. Example: $75/day x 211 days = $15,825.
- Multiplier Method. For this method, you start with a “multiplier” with a value between 1.5 and 5 (depending on the severity of your condition) and multiply it by your economic damages. Example: $5,200 in economic damages x a multiplier of 3 = $15,600.
Add your pain and suffering damages to your economic damages and to the remainder of your non-economic damages (loss of consortium, etc.) to arrive at your total compensation.
Contact a Lawyer for Assistance With Your Claim
The intangible nature of non-economic damages means that nobody, not even your lawyer, knows exactly how much you are entitled to down to the last dime. What a skilled personal injury attorney in St. Petersburg can do for you is maximize the amount of non-economic damages you put in your pocket. Indeed, a good lawyer might be able to double, triple, or even quadruple the amount of non-economic damages you receive.