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Comparative Negligence and Nominal Damages


In January 2014, two police officers responded to a noise complaint at a Fort Pierce home. A man pulled open the garage door when the officers knocked, but then started to close it when he saw the police. One of the officers opened fire when the man allegedly pulled a weapon on them. The man was shot and killed — and an unloaded weapon was found in his back pocket.

The man’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the police officer and the St. Lucie County Sheriff. The case went to trial, and the jury came back with a shocking verdict. Because the man was drunk, the jury found him almost entirely at fault for his own death. The jury awarded the man’s family 4 cents for her loss.

Florida’s Comparative Negligence Standard

Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, which means defendants pay damages that are proportionate to their percentage of fault. It doesn’t matter if the defendant is 100 percent at fault or 5 percent at fault. There is no minimum threshold of responsibility when it comes to actually awarding damages.

But what’s the point of a verdict that only awards 4 cents to a wrongful death victim’s family? In that case, would it be better to award nothing at all?

Awarding Nominal Damages

In some cases, juries may award nominal damages of $1 when a defendant acted negligently but the plaintiff’s injuries were minor. Or, in this case, the jury found that even though the man was mostly to blame for his death, the officer was a tiny bit negligent and therefore should be held nominally accountable.

Whether or not this standard was correctly applied in the man’s case, the point of nominal damages is recognizing when someone acts negligently and legally reprimanding them for that conduct.

Other Types of Damages

There are two categories of damages: economic and noneconomic. Economic damages are easily quantifiable and include medical expenses, lost wages, funeral costs, and property damage. These are compensatory damages that are designed to make the victim whole.

Noneconomic damages are more difficult to measure. This type of compensation encompasses pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and anything that doesn’t have a measurable cost. Sometimes, juries also award punitive damages, which are designed to punish the wrongdoer for his or her conduct.

The type and amount of damages awarded depend on the facts of a particular case. And of course, you can appeal if you aren’t happy with the amount of damages awarded in your lawsuit. Make sure you have an experienced attorney on your side.

Contact Us Today

Contact a Miami personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation if you were injured or loved one was killed because of police negligence. We will examine the facts of your case and help recover the compensation that you deserve, including pain and suffering, medical expenses, funeral costs, and lost wages.

The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach and Bradenton areas.



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