Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Reviews Future Medical Expenses and Diminished Earnings Award in Multimillion Dollar Verdict

A Florida Circuit Court of Appeal discussed what a jury should consider in order to determine an award for diminished earning capacity and future medical expenses in Volusia County v. Joynt (5D14-2403). A woman was visiting Florida, sunbathing on the beach, when a beach patrol car ran over her. The woman suffered severe injuries and spent six days in a hospital for skull fractures and internal injuries. The injured woman eventually had to have ear reconstruction surgery, with a gold weight inserted into her eyelid to help her blink. The injured woman also suffered hearing loss, lingering paralysis on the left side of her face, chronic pain in her back, radiating pain in her chest, memory loss, and headaches. The jury awarded her $2 million for past and future pain and suffering, $100,000 for future medical expenses, and $500,000 for diminished earning capacity.

The County, who oversaw the beach patrol and was the ultimate liable party, appealed the portion of damages awarded for diminished earning capacity and future medical expenses. The County argued that there was no reasonable evidence for the jury to base a verdict on. The Court of Appeals agreed, emphasizing that a motion for directed verdict should have been awarded, based on the absence of reasonable evidence for a jury to legally predict a verdict.

Florida does allow future damages to be awarded for loss of earning capacity. This award is available to compensate a plaintiff for the loss of capacity to earn income rather than the actual loss of future earnings. As with all personal injury suits, the injured person must show that the negligence of the defendant, or alleged at-fault party, caused the sustained injuries. In order to be awarded damages, the injured person must then show the jury proof of the damages sustained. For physical injuries, medical bills are often shown. For future medical care, an expert witness may testify as to what the expected care and cost of that care will be, based on the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. For loss of earning capacity, the injured person must show with reasonable certainty that the capacity to labor has been diminished and that there’s a way to measure this difference monetarily.

The injured woman in this case had previously been employed as a paraeducator. At the time of the accident, she was unemployed, but she eventually went back to work. The Court of Appeals pointed out that the evidence did not show that her ability to perform her job was affected by the accident. The principal at her school even stated that any physical limitations that the injured woman suffered would not affect her ability to be promoted, nor subject her to re-evaluation of her suitability for the job.

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the argument put forth by the injured woman, who claimed she would eventually lose her job due to the injuries and that $500,000 would be lost if she was unable to work until the age of retirement. The court found this to be purely speculative, and not enough to meet the requirements of the law that oblige the injured person to show a more certain economic loss. The Court felt similarly about the testimony regarding her future medical expenses. While there was some evidence that some conditions would worsen over time and require additional treatment, the testifying doctor did not state how much these procedures would cost. The Court of Appeals did not feel that the past medical bills alone could be used to predict the future cost of care. The Court of Appeals affirmed the majority of the jury verdict but reversed the awards for loss of earning capacity and future medical expenses.

The Florida personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston are the aggressive litigators you need to pursue the damages you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office today at 772-266-5555.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appeals Court Reviews Notice Requirements for Insured to Receive Personal Injury Protection Benefits, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 13, 2015

Knowing How a Rejection of Uninsured/Underinsured Auto Insurance Coverage in Florida Affects You and Your Family, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 6, 2015