What Are The Types of Damages Awarded in a Personal Injury Case?

October 8, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
What Are The Types of Damages Awarded in a Personal Injury Case?

Personal Injury Case Damage Types

If you were injured due to negligence, for example in a car accident, slip and fall, or workplace injury, you can seek to recover damages to cover your losses. This includes things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

A Comprehensive Explanation of Compensatory and Punitive Damages

There are three types of damages that may be granted in personal injury claims: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. Economic damages may also be referred to as special damages, and non-economic damages may be called general damages. Both are included in the compensatory damages category. The compensatory damages definition is as follows: just as the word "compensatory" itself indicates, these damages are paid to compensate the claimant for any loss, injury, and/or harm sustained by the claimant as a result of the at-fault party's breach of duty of care, which caused such loss, injury and/or harm. These types of damages may be awarded in a negligence claim filed in accordance with tort law; and as such, may also be described as tort damages. Personal injury cases based on negligence may award economic damages and non-economic damages, but punitive damages are only awarded in very serious cases.

Defining Damages and Punitive Damages Meaning

Before we proceed, it is important to understand the concept of damages and what is included as part of the compensation plaintiff receives. Legal damages, also known as monetary damages, consist of material, usually monetary compensation awarded to the injured party in a lawsuit and are to be paid by the at-fault party. To put it simply, damages are the sum of money that the law imposes in cases where there has been a breach of a certain duty or a violation of some right by the liable party against the injured party. The underlying purpose of awarding damages may vary depending upon the specific circumstances of the case and the extent of the liable party's negligence and/or intentionally reckless behavior. It can be intended as a form of restitution, a penalty, or both. For instance, compensatory damages, as the name itself suggests, are intended as restitution to compensate the injured party for any loss or injury, requiring the at-fault party to pay the injured party for actual monetary or physical losses suffered.

Punitive Damages

On the other hand, punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are intended as a penalty and punitive damage awards are specifically meant to penalize and punish the liable party for their wrongful act, and to deter any such behavior by both the liable party and others in the future. In sum, personal injury cases typically involve the two forms of compensatory damages (economic and non-economic), as well as punitive or exemplary damages. While there are various other categories of damages, such as liquidated damages (definition: contractually established damages) and nominal damages (definition: where the court awards a nominal amount to the plaintiff such as one dollar), they are virtually never granted and/or applicable in personal injury cases.

Demonstrating Negligence in Order to Receive Monetary Compensation

Plaintiffs bring lawsuits against negligent or criminal parties to seek compensation for their losses or injuries. To understand the value of their lawsuit, plaintiffs must know the types of actual damages available to them. The more difficult and complex component in cases is successfully demonstrating and proving the sum of actual damages to which you are entitled. Determining the value of actual damages—especially losses that do not have a tangible monetary value—can be a challenging process. If you or your loved one sustained a personal injury due to someone else's negligence, you can hire a Florida personal injury attorney to assist you with calculating the total monetary value of your expenses and losses. It is vital to note that any type of compensation requires establishing negligence. Negligence occurs when a person fails to use reasonable care and breaches their duty of care, which then causes an injury to someone else. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff to provide care to them, and that defendant breached the applicable standards of care. Most importantly, the plaintiff must show that the defendant's failure to use reasonable care led to and caused their injuries.

Elements of Negligence - How to Successfully Prove Negligence in a Personal Injury Claim

To prove negligence in a personal injury case, the following four elements need to be present:


The plaintiff, as the injured party, must prove that defendant owed them a duty of care, such as a store owner's responsibility and duty of care to keep the premises safe for all customers and other visitors.


The defendant must be shown to have breached such duty of care to the plaintiff due to a failure to exercise reasonable care, i.e., negligent behavior, in which case the defendant will likely be held liable for all damages incurred by the injured party. Typically, such breach is evaluated using the reasonable care standard, as an ordinary person would have exercised in a similar situation.


Cause in Fact vs. Proximate Cause: to establish cause, in fact, also known as the actual cause, the plaintiff must establish that it was this very breach of the duty of care by the defendant that actually caused the plaintiff's injuries. Essentially, this means that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's actions and behavior were the direct cause of their injury. In contrast, proximate cause, also known as the legal cause, involves situations where the injury may not have happened as a direct result of the accident, but still ultimately resulted from the accident. To put it another way, a proximate cause must be shown to be the primary cause of the injury, by establishing that it was an action that produced foreseeable consequences without any outside intervention and by plaintiff showing that the injuries were the natural, direct consequence of any such proximate cause, without which said injuries would not have occurred.

Personal Injury Damages

To recover damages, the plaintiff must prove a legally recognized harm, such as physical injuries to the plaintiff  (i.e. serious physical injuries) and/or damage to property (i.e. property damage to a vehicle after a car accident). Defendant's breach and failure to exercise reasonable care must result in actual damages to the person to whom such defendant owed a duty of care. Successfully proving negligence in a personal injury claim is vital for the plaintiff to receive the best possible outcome in their case. Having an experienced, knowledgeable personal injury attorney on your side is incredibly important to obtain the maximum possible recovery. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we work with a team of experts to illustrate liability, causation (that the accident caused the injuries complained of), future and present damages, and other pertinent issues to successfully establish fault, liability, and negligence of the at-fault party. This is necessary to maximize the damages our client seeks. In order to provide our clients with an honest evaluation of their case and the potential damages sought, it is imperative to be as diligent as possible. Our injury lawyers have achieved significant success in mediation and at trial because of our preparation and substantial personal injury experience. We are well-versed in all aspects of Florida's negligence laws and personal injury laws and have extensive experience and knowledge when it comes to most effectively navigating the personal injury claim process to achieve the most beneficial outcome possible for our clients.

Types of Negligence That Lead to Personal Injuries

There are several categories and types of negligence that may affect your claim and the ultimate monetary compensation received:

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is where the plaintiff has partial responsibility for their injuries and is required to pay a percentage of the damages; typically determined by taking the final amount granted to the plaintiff in their personal injury case and reducing this amount by their percentage of fault in the accident.

Contributory Negligence

This type of system has been abandoned by most states; in this case, the plaintiff cannot collect any damages whatsoever for their injuries if they had any part, however small, in causing their injuries in any manner. Contributory negligence is not used by Florida and most states but is still in practice in a few like Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Combination of Comparative and Contributory Negligence

Modified Comparative Negligence: commonly referred to as modified comparative negligence because it combines several elements of both comparative and contributory negligence, with the general standard being that an injured plaintiff can recover damages as long as they are not deemed to be more than 50% at fault for their injuries.

Gross Negligence

When the defendant's actions and behavior show a complete lack of regard for the safety of others, or in cases where their actions were deemed to be reckless and, in some cases, intentional; this differs from ordinary negligence where the defendant did not intend to cause harm to another person. This is a common example of a situation where punitive damages may be awarded to the plaintiff to penalize the defendant and to discourage the defendant as well as others generally from engaging in such behavior in the future.

Vicarious Negligence

This type of negligence is based upon the theory of vicarious liability, used to hold a defendant responsible for the actions of another person or animal under their care and supervision. Common examples are instances where a minor child or a household pet such as a dog causes injuries to another person, in which case the parents or owners, respectively, could be held responsible for any resulting injuries and/or damages.

You May Pursue Three Types of Damages to Recover Losses

Below are detailed descriptions of each of the three types of damages that a victim may receive in a personal injury settlement:

Economic Damages (Special Damages)

Economic damages are granted to victims to compensate them for financial losses due to their injuries. The purpose of these damages is to reimburse the injured party for any financial losses associated with their injuries. These damages are meant to relieve some or all the plaintiff's financial burden. Economic damages may include (i) loss of wages (more difficult to prove if the injured party's job involves variable pay, otherwise known as commission-based pay as opposed to a set salary), (ii) medical bills and expenses, (iii) cost of living with a temporary or permanent disability because of physical injuries sustained in the accident, (iv) property damage, (v) funeral costs in cases of death and (vi) personal care expenses.

Non-Economic Damages (General Damages)

Non-economic damages are not as straightforward when it comes to assigning a set monetary value for such damages; as many non-economic damages encompass emotional trauma, including pain and suffering, which are not as tangible and simple to quantify as economic damages. This category of damages also provides compensation for future losses and damages due to loss of future income and all future medical care required. Non-economic damages may include (i) mental trauma, (ii) pain and suffering, (iii) loss of companionship, (iv) loss of enjoyment of life, and (v) loss of/damage to reputation. When calculating general damages, imperative considerations should include the age and health of the victim prior to the accident, their occupation and income, and the severity and ongoing as well as future impact to the plaintiff's quality of life as a result of their injuries.

Defining Punitive Damages (Exemplary Damages)

The punitive damages definition (also known as exemplary damages) can be summarized as follows: courts award punitive damages for the purpose of punishing the defendant for conduct in cases where such conduct was outrageous, grossly negligent, and/or intentional. The punishment is meant to deter the defendant and stop others from partaking in the same conduct in the future. Punitive damages are rarely granted in Florida. To receive a punitive damages award, the defendant's conduct must have been malicious or reckless, thereby displaying such a blatant disregard for the rights and well-being of the aggrieved party such that a court wants to send a message that such behavior will not be tolerated at any cost. While most personal injury lawsuits are based upon the theory of negligence, in certain cases, a defendant's negligence may rise to the level of "willful and wanton behavior", essentially meaning that a defendant intentionally inflicts a very high and unreasonable risk of harm upon others, acting with conscious disregard of such risk of harm and no regard for the safety and well-being of others. Because many personal injury lawsuits are solely based on ordinary negligence, it is rare for courts to award punitive damages in such cases. The law restricts the availability of punitive damages and punitive damages awarded are limited to cases where the defendant acted: fraudulently, intentionally, or willfully and wantonly.

Punitive Damages - Requirements

As detailed above, punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits are granted on a highly selective basis and to receive a punitive damages award, the plaintiff must be able to satisfy all requirements with respect to punitive damages. Some of the major requirements are as follows: Other Damages Already Granted: punitive damages must be awarded together with other types of damages and cannot be awarded on their own. All other damages, such as compensatory damages and restitution damages, must be awarded prior to punitive damages, which are awarded last. Malicious Intent: to emphasize a crucial concept which is an absolute requirement for punitive damages to be awarded, the defendant must have acted in a manner that can be described as either malicious, purposeful or a combination of both. A defendant who merely acted with ordinary negligence does not entitle a plaintiff to receipt of punitive damages. Therefore, many car accidents which typically involve negligent behavior that is not intentional do not meet the threshold for punitive damages. Direct Harm/Injury: generally speaking, the plaintiff must have been directly injured and directly harmed by the actions of the defendant for punitive damages to be awarded.

How Much Can Punitive Damages Realistically Be?

Punitive damages are awarded based upon an analysis of the realistic damages sustained by the plaintiff, and the amount of punitive damages awarded would be proportional to the plaintiff's damages incurred. Granting punitive damages in excessive amounts or in an amount that is disproportionate to the actual damages of the plaintiff is considered unconstitutional. Due to several plaintiffs attempting to claim impractical and unreasonable amounts for punitive damages, many states have implemented a cap that limits the amount of punitive damages which may be awarded. Generally, the more severe the injuries sustained, and the higher their impact is on the plaintiff's everyday life, the larger the punitive damage amount awarded to the plaintiff.

Common Situations and Types of Lawsuits Where Punitive Damages May Be Granted

  • Malpractice Cases: Medical malpractice cases where the level of negligence has exceeded the ordinary negligence threshold and is significant enough to be deemed extreme negligence, punitive damages may be awarded. Common examples include performing the wrong surgical procedure, botching a surgical procedure, and leaving a surgical instrument or other foreign objects within the patient's body after surgery. All these situations cause significant harm to the plaintiff.
  • Dangerous Conduct: any behavior that exposes the public to a high risk of harm is considered dangerous conduct, where punitive damages may be awarded.
  • Disregard For the Law: depending upon the severity of the defendant's actions, if the defendant's behavior displayed a clear and blatant disregard for the law, punitive damages may be granted. A common example is when a defendant drives at a speed significantly over the maximum speed limit.
  • Knowledge of Risk Posed by Defendant's Actions and Disregard for Others: if the defendant knew or was deemed to have reason to know that their actions pose a significant risk and may lead to others being injured, yet still engages in such behavior, this demonstrates a complete lack of regard for others and establishes that the defendant acted with some level of intent that exceeds ordinary negligence, thereby qualifying for punitive damages.

Does Car Insurance Cover Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are usually awarded in cases where the defendant was directly guilty of gross negligence or intentional misconduct and bad acts. Most insurance policies contain certain coverage exclusions for damages caused by the intentional acts of the insured. In Florida, punitive damages are usually not insurable and covered by auto insurance; in fact, Florida courts have ruled that Florida public policy prohibits insurance coverage for punitive and exemplary damages. In Florida, punitive damages in personal injury claims are generally limited to the greater of: (i) three times the total amount of compensatory damages awarded to a plaintiff; or (ii) $500,000.00. There is also a federal restriction as mandated by the United States Supreme Court with respect to caps on punitive damage awards. Two common examples where punitive damages are granted in personal injury cases are where the at-fault driver was drunk or intoxicated at the time of the car accident, or if the careless driver was on their cell phone at the time of the accident, resulting in injury to the plaintiff. Car insurance policies are generally very restrictive when it comes to granting punitive damages; in most instances, punitive damages are awarded once the case proceeds to trial, at the discretion of the judge and/or jury.

Limits on Punitive Damages

Once the jury decides that the defendant is liable for punitive damages, they must also decide on the punitive damage amount. To make this determination, the jury evaluates and weighs several factors, including (i) the reprehensibility of the defendant's actions and behavior in view of; (ii) the extent of the plaintiff's susceptibility, the extent and recurrence of the defendant's conduct, and the type of harm (i.e., physical injuries, emotional, economic) suffered as a result of the defendant's actions. Additionally, they must determine both the actual harm and potential harm caused by the defendant's actions. It is left to the jury's discretion to decide the amount of money that is sufficient to punish the defendant and serve as an example to both the defendant and any others. Typical analysis as to the sum of punitive damages can involve the jury's consideration of the sum of the monetary penalty as compared to the defendant's net worth to ensure this will serve to deter the defendant from engaging in such behavior in the future. Punitive damages are seldom available and awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury cases. In instances when punitive damages are available, they are subject to several restrictions and requirements including constitutionally mandated caps on punitive damages which may be awarded; the punitive damages cap in accordance with Florida law is discussed in the previous section. There is also a federally mandated cap as implemented by the United States Supreme Court.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer to Assist with the Recovery of Punitive Damages and Other Damages?

Any personal injury case is complicated enough, with an often daunting and difficult-to-navigate claims process which can be incredibly overwhelming for many personal injury plaintiffs. Once punitive damages become an additional consideration, the nuances, and complexities of the case skyrocket. Each state has its own laws and legal standards with respect to punitive damage limits along with the evaluation criteria and protocol used in determining punitive damage awards. This is when it is particularly important that you work with a personal injury lawyer as they will have the requisite knowledge and experience to guide you throughout the claims process and make a professional determination as to whether the required criteria for awarding punitive damages was satisfied.

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help After an Accident

After your accident, you will likely experience substantial economic losses, many of which you can include as special damages in your personal injury claim. A personal injury attorney can begin calculating your losses and strengthening your claim to ensure that you obtain the best possible legal remedy available. This can be achieved through a mutually agreed-upon settlement or, if necessary, through litigation by means of a court order. People who have been hurt by negligent parties may be entitled to have their damages paid for by those same parties. People choose Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA to represent their interests in Florida because they can focus on recovering from their injuries while we get straight to work on building their cases. Special damages, general damages, and punitive damages as well as the process for successfully receiving such damages, are oftentimes incredibly complex and intricate. For this reason, the legal process of a personal injury claim is best left to legal professionals. Your future is too important to risk to chance. Decide to take a proactive approach and to stand up to those whose careless actions resulted in serious injuries to you or the wrongful death and loss of a loved one.

Representing Yourself in a Personal Injury Case is a Mistake

Any attempt at representing yourself or handling negotiations with an insurance company alone can lead to disappointment. A licensed personal injury attorney has the education, training, skills, and experience necessary for a legal claim. Accepting an initial settlement offer can prevent you from pursuing future litigation should your medical condition worsen. The time immediately following an accident is stressful and overwhelming as you learn to deal with your injuries. It is no time to try to handle your case on your own. Insurance companies are only looking out for their own best interests, making it imperative that you secure legal representation to protect your own best interests.

Seek an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we fully review every detail of your case in order to provide you with the best possible counseling and exceptional representation. We have handled thousands of personal injury claims involving a wide-ranging variety of damages, including punitive damages. Unlike other Florida law firms that handle similar personal injury cases, we focus on the quality of representation, rather than the number of clients. We do take pride in the number of injured victims whom we have had the privilege of representing, but we take more pride in their level of satisfaction. Let us help you maximize the monetary damages and punitive damages for your claim. Call us today at 727-451-6900 or contact us online for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/florida-personal-injury-lawyer/


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

Learn More