When someone brings a wrongful death action in Florida, they will usually ask for both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages are damages that can be specific and represent a quantifiable monetary amount. For example, pecuniary damages may be awarded in the amount of a deceased’s medical bills, or to cover the specific funeral and burial costs in a wrongful death lawsuit. Non-pecuniary damages, on the other hand, are damages that cannot be measured precisely. For example, money to compensate for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium may be estimated and awarded as non-pecuniary damages.
Recently, the Eleventh Circuit released an opinion discussing pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages—and related choice of law concerns—in a wrongful death case. According to the court’s written opinion, the case arose when a Wisconsin citizen and his wife took a cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. While the ship was docked in Juneau, Alaska, he began experiencing shortness of breath and went to the ship’s infirmary. The ship’s physician examined him and gave him prescription medication. He then returned to his quarters, where he collapsed. He was taken to the hospital in Alaska but unfortunately died of a heart attack several days later.
The daughter of the deceased, also the personal representative of his estate, sued Royal Caribbean for negligence in medical care and treatment. She brought suit in the Southern District of Florida as required by the forum selection clause on the cruise ticket. After trial, a jury found Royal Caribbean liable and awarded the plaintiff $3,384,073.22 in damages, $3,360,000 of which represented non-pecuniary damages. Royal Caribbean appealed.