Florida offers personal injury victims three possible types of compensation — economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. Although economic damages and non-economic damages are typical, punitive damages are relatively uncommon.
Economic damages are losses that you can easily count in terms of dollars and cents. You can claim compensation for just about any type of economic damages that arose directly from your accident.
There are three types of economic damages that are most common— medical expenses, lost earnings, and miscellaneous expenses. Below is a description of these types of economic damages.
Current Medical Expenses
Medical expenses include just about any expense that you incur as a result of services rendered or recommended by a healthcare provider. That might mean:
- Ambulance transport;
- Hospital bills;
- Prescription and non-prescription drugs.
- Medical equipment such as wheelchairs or a pacemaker;
- Physical therapy;
- Rehabilitation; and
- Psychological counseling if, for example, you develop PTSD after a dog attack.
Many more types of medical expenses are reimbursable, as long as they are reasonable and necessary. The insurance company or the defendant will probably question some of your expenses as unnecessary.
Anticipated Future Medical Expenses
Suppose you suffer a slip and fall accident that leaves you with brain damage so severe that you will need continuing medical treatment for the rest of your life. If you’re 30 years old now, that might mean several decades of continuing future medical expenses. It is critical that you accurately calculate your future medical expenses. If you underestimate the amount you might find yourself at 60 years old with no money left.
How do you calculate such a speculative sum? You are going to need to rely on two resources. First, an experienced personal injury lawyer who has calculated future medical expenses for personal injury clients before. Second, you’re going to need an expert who can calculate these expenses for you. Your lawyer can probably locate an expert for you. This expert might prepare a report on your case, and they will almost certainly testify at any trial or deposition that your case requires.
Suppose you miss six weeks of work due to your injuries. How do you recover those losses? One way is to use your sick leave. It doesn’t seem fair, however, that you could use your own sick leave to pay for lost income caused by the defendant.
For this reason, the amount of your lost earnings include sick leave and vacation time that you used to tide yourself over while you’re unable to work. It also includes any actual out-of-pocket losses that you suffered.
Anticipated Future Lost Earnings
If you suffered permanent injuries, you might find yourself unable to return to your previous position. You might have to take a lower-paying job, or you might not be able to work at all. In this case, it is absolutely critical that you obtain adequate compensation for the earnings that you lost due to the accident. The younger you are and the greater your income potential before your accident, the more money a court is likely to award you for lost earnings.
Just as with anticipated future medical expenses, you’re going to need to draw on two resources to calculate and claim your anticipated future lost earnings — your lawyer and an expert witness. Accurately calculating future lost earnings is perhaps even more important than accurately calculating future medical expenses. The consequences of underestimating your future financial needs could be catastrophic.
Imagine the expenses that you might incur if you are in the hospital for a long time or if you are bedridden and unable to even brush your teeth without help. If you have a family, you might need to arrange childcare, and childcare is expensive.
You might also need to hire a housekeeper, especially if you have children. You might need to pay parking fees for doctor appointments, and you might incur travel expenses to see a medical specialist.
Non-economic damages include any form of loss that is essentially intangible, including the items described below.
Pain and Suffering
The term “pain and suffering damages” refers to the physical suffering that you endure because of your injuries. It is probably the most prominent element of the average personal injury claim. In many cases, compensation for pain and suffering alone amounts to several times the amount of economic damages and well over half of the total amount of compensation for the claim.
You might suffer emotional distress as an indirect result of your injuries or the accident that produced them. You might find yourself in a state of depression, for example, or in a state of constant anxiety.
Loss of Consortium
“Loss of consortium” means the loss of intimacy with your spouse. Perhaps your injuries prevent you from providing your spouse with companionship or intimacy. If you were the one injured, then your spouse must file this claim.
Imagine entering your arm so badly that the doctors had to amputate it. In this case, simple reimbursement of your medical expenses would not be enough to compensate you for the loss of your arm. Disfigurement damages aim to compensate you for the additional losses that you suffer even after your medical bills have been paid.
Loss of Enjoyment of Life
A serious injury might leave you with temporary or permanent disabilities that affect your daily activities. Imagine being unable to go to the gym, play tennis, read, hold conversations with your children, or enjoy hobbies such as chess. All of these disabilities can drastically reduce your enjoyment of life. You are entitled to compensation for this loss.
Inconvenience damages reimburse you for the inconvenience of living with your injuries and limitations. Imagine the inconvenience, for example, if you suffered brain damage that prevented you from communicating verbally.
Punitive damages are a third type of damages, in addition to economic damages and non-economic damages. Punitive damages are not designed to compensate you but to punish the person who harmed you. Nevertheless, the money still goes to you if the court decides to award punitive damages.
To win punitive damages, you must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with gross negligence or malice. A good example of this would be a road rage incident in which the defendant deliberately caused the accident that injured you. Florida applies a rather complex set of limits on punitive damages. In cases of intentional injury, however, there is no limit on the amount of damages that a court can award.
It Won’t Cost You a Dime Up Front to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
Almost all personal injury lawyers operate on a contingency fee system. That means your legal fees equal a pre-agreed percentage of whatever amount of money your lawyer obtains for you, whether in court or at the settlement table. If your lawyer obtains nothing for you, your legal fees will be zero.