The purpose of awarding damages is to restore an employee to the same place they would have been if it weren’t for the actions or inactions of the employer. The difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages is the purpose of the compensation. Compensatory damages pay a victim for their actual losses, both financial and emotional. Punitive damages punish a defendant for their conduct.
Compensatory damages look at losses to the victim, and are available in all qualified injury cases. Punitive damages address the defendant’s behavior and are only available when specific conditions apply.
Compensatory damages are damages that pay a victim for the losses that they have as the result of an accident. These include things that are both tangible and intangible, economic and non-economic.
Economic damages would include medical and related bills, lost income, caregiver costs and assistive devices. Documentation such a receipts provide solid proof of costs associated with an injury and should be available for the court to review. Non-economic damages are compensation sometimes offered for less concrete damages such as pain and suffering, disgrace and embarrassment or emotional trauma.
Until compensatory damages are awarded, a plaintiff cannot claim punitive damages.
Punitive damages are the payment that a defendant found guilty of committing an offense is ordered to pay in addition to compensatory damages. These are awarded when the court determines the compensatory damages are insufficient.
Courts award punitive damages in civil cases where the defendant’s actions are determined to be intentional or grossly negligent. Punitive damages are intended to punish or deter the defendant and others from repeating the behavior that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.
The State caps punitive damage awards at 3 times the amount of compensatory damages or the sum of $500,000, whichever is greater. However, if the defendant’s intent was financial gain, damages could be as high as four times compensatory damages. Having said that, punitive damages are not typically awarded in Florida.
Generally speaking, examples of situations where punitive damages may be awarded include assault and battery, sexual assault, accidents caused by a driver under the influence, malpractice, wrongful termination, discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional suffering and medical malpractice.
For more information about damages, visit Florida Statutes 768 Part II.
Avoiding Punitive Damages
As an employer, avoiding punitive damages requires pre-emptive action to safeguard the workplace against accidents and discrimination by establishing and effectively monitoring safety and corporate policies. Additionally, accurate documentation of all actions taken pursuant to the policy will save employers from significant costs associated with employment lawsuits.
The court will recognize an employer’s good-faith efforts to create a safe workplace which may include:
• Providing proper notice and communication of policies and procedures to employees
• Implementing awareness training for supervisors
• Providing education on policies and procedures
• Establishing internal procedures to enforce policies
• Instituting a monitoring system to ensure compliance
• Establishing procedures for conducting prompt and adequate investigations
If you are an employer and have questions about how best to protect your business from litigation or have sustained injuries as a result of an on-the-job accident, contact employment attorney Derek Usman for a consultation of your situation.