Last week, justice was finally handed down to a Florida man who sustained life-long injuries in a 2015 car accident. Jacob T. Rodgers became permanently paralyzed when a Gainesville Regional Utilities worker in an SUV ran a stop sign and hit the pickup truck he was riding in. A jury awarded Rodgers $120 million and determined he was not at all at fault in the crash.
Rodgers was represented by Brian McClain, Jeff Humphries, and Brian Lee of the Morgan & Morgan law firm. The team litigated his case for several years before presenting it to a jury and arguing that the life changing effects of the accident entitled him to substantial damages.
Ultimately, the verdict included nearly $115 million in compensation for past and future disability, disfigurement, and mental anguish. This type of restitution falls under the category of non-economic damages. Rodgers was also allotted over $5 million for past and future medical and household expenses, which are considered economic damages.
In a statement released shortly after the verdict, Gainesville Regional Utilities indicated they did not expect to remit the full award amount because they are a government agency and subject to a $200,000 sovereign immunity cap under Florida state law. The Florida statute also permits a claim above that to be submitted to the state legislature, so it is possible that Rodgers may end up collecting the entire payment. Finally, that’s only Gainesville Util’s position. Your writer doesn’t know whether Morgan and Morgan will have anything to say about that.
Florida does not have a damage cap statute for most personal injury claims. Plaintiffs in this type of jurisdiction can recover full, just compensation for a serious injury. In Rodgers’ case, he was only 20 years old when the car accident permanently paralyzed him. The fact that he will be spending the remainder of his life in a wheelchair likely contributed to the jury’s high dollar verdict in his favor.
Unfortunately, this kind of outcome is not possible for a personal injury victim in Maryland. That’s because Maryland is one of only eight states that place damage caps on non-economic recovery for personal injury plaintiffs. For general personal injury claims the cap is set at $890,000 through October 1, 2021, increasing $15,000 annually in future years. Wrongful death claims with two or more beneficiaries are currently capped at $1,335,000 in recovery. Beneficiaries of an accident victim who died may also file a combined wrongful death and survival action, which has damages currently capped at $2,225,000.
Why does Maryland maintain these damage caps? In short, it’s because insurance lobbyists have convinced legislators to prioritize their industry’s bottom line over justice for personal injury victims. This shift in the civil system towards reduced insurance liability is known as tort reform, and it has resulted in a steady nationwide decline in damage payouts to plaintiffs over the last few decades.