Civil litigation damages caps play a fundamental role in influencing the outcomes of legal disputes. Florida, like many other states, imposes limits on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive in certain types of cases. These caps aim to strike a balance between protecting defendants from excessive financial burdens and ensuring fair compensation for injured parties.
Types of Damages
In Florida, recoverable damages generally fall into two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages cover measurable losses with monetary value such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are more subjective and encompass pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Economic damages are calculable with a dollar amount, while non-economic damages are often subjective and based on the circumstances of each case.
Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice
Florida does not include caps on compensatory damages for personal injury lawsuits. One area where the Florida legislature attempted to create caps was medical malpractice cases. Florida Statute 766.118 limited non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to $500,000 per claimant when the negligence is caused by the practitioner.[i] In cases of catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, this cap increased to $1 million.[ii] The cap again increased to $1.5 million per claimant when there is medical negligence by a nonpractitioner and results in a permanent vegetative state or death.[iii] However, over the years, damages caps in Florida have faced constitutional challenges. And in 2014, the Florida Supreme Court declared the caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases unconstitutional[iv]. The court reasoned that such caps violated equal protection rights and undermined the fundamental right to access the courts. [v]
While Florida generally does not impose specific caps on punitive damages, there are restrictions in place. To secure punitive damages, a plaintiff must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions were intentional or grossly negligent. In other words, if it is determined that a car accident rendering a victim severely injured was caused by an act of violence, a jury can decide to include punitive damages when deciding on the outcome and award in the case. Even then, punitive damages are limited to three times the amount of the victim’s compensatory damages awarded or $500,000, whichever is greater.
Sovereign immunity applies when suing government entities in Florida. However, the State waives sovereign immunity for liability of tortious acts. State and its agencies and subdivisions are liable for torts to the same extent a private individual is, but liability does not include punitive damages or interest for the period before judgment. Damages against state or local governments are capped at $200,000 against one government agency or $300,000 against multiple government agencies.[vi]
Damages caps in Florida are almost nonexistent and vary across different types of cases. While they seek to maintain a delicate balance in the legal system, debates over their constitutionality persist. As legal landscapes evolve, it remains essential for attorneys and lawmakers to continually reassess and refine the framework of damages caps to ensure a fair and just legal process for all parties involved.
[i] Fla. Stat. 766.118(2)
[iii] Fla. Stat. 766.118(3)(b)
[iv] Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014),
[vi] Fla. Stat. 768.28(5)