Frequently Asked Questions - How do you calculate pain and suffering damages?
A civil lawsuit is a legal dispute between two or more people, businesses, or other entities. Generally, the party bringing the civil suit, the plaintiff, is seeking compensation from the other party, the defendant, for perceived harm caused by the defendant’s actions or inaction. A tort is a wrongful act or infringement of a right and is a common cause of civil lawsuits. There are several forms of torts and negligence is one of the most common torts that leads to a civil lawsuit. When someone acts in an unreasonably dangerous way or fails to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury to another person, they have acted negligently. Civil suits for negligence include slips and falls, car accidents, and inadequate security at a business or event. A plaintiff must prove four elements to prevail in a civil suit for negligence. First, the plaintiff must prove the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty. Second, the plaintiff must show the defendant breached that duty. Third, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions, or inactions, are the cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Finally, the plaintiff must prove they were harmed as a result of the defendant’s action or inaction and have suffered damages. Damages in a civil suit generally fall into one of two categories, compensatory and punitive.
Compensatory damages are the most commonly awarded damages in Florida in a civil suit for negligence. The goal of compensatory damages is to make the plaintiff whole by awarding the plaintiff monetary damages to compensate for the loss he or she suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Compensatory damages can be either economic or non-economic damages. Economic damages are more easily quantifiable as compared to non-economic damages. For instance, economic damages would include lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, past and future medical bills, household services, out-of-pocket expenses, and damage to property. Evidence of economic damages is generally more easily discernable. For instance, evidence of economic damages such as past medical bills can be produced and entered into evidence for a jury to consider. Some economic damages, however, can be more difficult to calculate and may require expert testimony. For example, in order to calculate an injured plaintiff’s loss of future earning capacity the plaintiff would need to supply the trier of fact with an abundance of documentation and testimony. An expert may need to perform complex economic calculations taking into consideration the plaintiff’s age, past earning capacity, training or education, and life expectancy. While some economic damages may require additional evidence or expert testimony to properly quantify, the damages are generally more easily quantifiable based on the available evidence.
In contrast, non-economic damages are often much more difficult to quantify because they are subjective and may vary between different individuals. Non-economic damages are defined by Florida statute as, “nonfinancial losses that would not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the cause of action, including pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, and other nonfinancial losses.” Pain and suffering damages can be more difficult to quantify because each member of the jury may place a different monetary value to the injury. For example, someone who has suffered a broken leg in the past may place a higher monetary value on the pain and suffering for that injury as opposed to someone who has never broken a bone. Therefore, a plaintiff must present the jury with evidence of the pain and suffering incurred as a result of the lawsuit’s subject injury and the court will instruct the jury to use their best judgment when determining the damages to award the plaintiff. In calculating the plaintiff’s pain and suffering the jury may consider a variety of factors such as the severity of the injury, the plaintiff’s future prognosis, the length of recovery or rehabilitation, the plaintiff’s age, and how the injury impacts the plaintiff’s activities of daily living.
Pain and suffering damages can be awarded for physical as well as mental harms. Physical pain and suffering damages may be awarded for the pain and trauma associated with a physical injury and for the subsequent medical treatment and rehabilitation. Mental pain and suffering may be awarded for negative emotions such as fear, depression, or embarrassment that result from a traumatic injury. Both physical and mental pain and suffering are subjective meaning each member of a jury may assign different values to the physical or mental harms caused by an injury.
There is no cap on compensatory damages, such as pain and suffering, under Florida law. The award for pain and suffering damages, however, must be supported by the evidence that was presented at trial. If a plaintiff fails to provide the jury with adequate information to properly calculate the damages, a judge may overturn the damage award or remand the case for further proceedings.
Punitive damage awards occur far more infrequently than compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit. Punitive damages are awarded in exceptional circumstances to punish a defendant’s actions if they are exceptionally offensive. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence to receive punitive damages. Florida statutes define intentional misconduct as the “defendant ha[ving] actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury to the claimant would result.” Gross negligence is defined as the “defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.” Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are capped under Florida law. Florida limits punitive damages to the greater of either $500,000 or three times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded.
An experienced civil trial attorney can assist in calculating both economic and non-economic compensatory damages such as pain and suffering. As previously mentioned, pain and suffering damages can be subjective and may require expert testimony or complex calculations. Additionally, a civil trial attorney will be able to gather the necessary evidence necessary to prove the full extent of the pain and suffering damages sustained due to an injury.