A generalized approach for adaptive finite element analysis of laminated composite structures is presented in this study. The approach quantifies and controls discretization and modeling error. The goal of this paper is to present an economical, easily computable and relatively robust error estimator. A patch recovery based discretization error estimator is used and a goal based one shot adaptive procedure is implemented to control the discretization error. An explicit indicator, for estimation of modeling error, has been proposed for the laminated composites. The quality of the discretization and modeling error estimators is studied through numerical examples. The effectiveness of the proposed approach is also demonstrated through the analysis of damaged laminates. The key advantage of the proposed approach is that the desired mesh and models in the laminate are adapted automatically to achieve the user specified error tolerances in discretization and modeling errors. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.