Under certain circumstances, federal statutes limit a plaintiff’s damages in some way. Of course, first it is important to understand the different types of damages
Types of Damages
Compensatory damages are intended to make up for an injury sustained by a victim. There are two basic types of compensatory damages: actual and general. Actual damages compensate the victim for any money they paid out of pocket for medical treatments, lost wages, property replacement, and rehabilitation as a result of their injury. General damages include mental anguish, disfigurement, future medical expenses, future lost wages, long-term pain and suffering, loss of consortium and loss of opportunity.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant for gross negligence or intentional misconduct causing a personal injury. The amount of damages will depend upon the defendant, as they will need the compensation will need to be enough to dissuade the defendant from similar future conduct.
Nominal damages are awarded where the actual damage is slight, but the court chooses to award a small sum of money to acknowledge the defendant’s wrongdoing. Generally, nominal damages are more about the principle issue, rather than the actual damages.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which covers most discrimination claims including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, damages are limited by the number of employees. It is important to note that these federal statutes does not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees.
· 15-100 employees = $50,000
· 101-200 employees = $100,000
· 201-500 employees = $200,000
· More than 500 employees = $300,000
There are loopholes to avoid theses damage caps, however, by making additional claims under state law as well.
Federal Tort Claims Act
When you are injured by a federal employee, or by federal property, you must bring your lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Under this act, the laws of the state where the accident occurred control damages limitations. For example, in New Mexico, medical malpractice damages are capped at $600,000, excluding past and future medical care.
The Federal Tort Claims Act prohibits awarding punitive damages. Therefore, even if you would normally be entitled to seek punitive damages in a lawsuit against a private individual, you many not seek punitive damages against the federal government.
While not limited by statute, there have been situations where the federal courts have limited the amount of punitive damages a jury may award. Generally, an award of punitive damages may be overturned if the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages is deemed too great. Particularly if the defendant’s conduct does not involve reckless disregard for health or safety, or bad faith.