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Understanding Punitive Damages in Florida

on  Personal Injury

In the State of Florida, the courts may award punitive damages to an injured accident victim. Punitive damages are like a financial penalty in a lawsuit. They aren’t about paying back the person who was hurt. Instead, they’re there to teach the defendant a tough lesson, making them think twice before doing something harmful again. 

Unlike other types of damages, the courts only award punitive damages in cases of gross or reckless misconduct. The primary function of punitive damages is not to compensate you for the harm you’ve suffered but rather to punish the defendant for particularly egregious, reckless, or intentional misconduct and to deter similar future conduct by the defendant or others. Punitive damages are extra; they’re about sending a strong message.

In personal injury cases, receiving punitive damages is rare, but it does happen. Your experienced Florida personal injury lawyer can help you understand all the damages you’re entitled to. 

Punitive Damages and Personal Injury Cases in Florida

Courts in Florida do not award punitive damages in every personal injury case. To determine if you might be eligible to collect punitive damages, your attorney must investigate all aspects of your case. Here are specific examples of cases that may qualify for punitive damages:

  • Drunk Driving Accident: If a drunk driver causes an accident, demonstrating a willful disregard for the safety and welfare of others, punitive damages may be awarded. This is especially true if they have a history of DUIs or caused significant harm. 
  • Texting and Driving: A collision resulting from a texting driver may qualify if your attorney can show that the driver was consciously aware of the risk and chose to ignore it.
  • Intentional Assault: A scenario where the defendant intentionally assaults you, resulting in injury.
  • Medical Malpractice: The courts may award punitive damages if a healthcare provider knowingly falsifies a patient’s records to cover up a mistake that led to injury or their actions were inexcusable and demonstrated a blatant disregard for the patient’s life or health. Examples could include practicing without a license, using harmful equipment, or operating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 
  • Manufacturing Dangerous Products: If a company continues to sell a product despite knowing that it could cause harm, such as a pharmaceutical company that hides the adverse effects of a drug, the courts may award punitive damages. 
  • Toxic torts: The judge could award punitive damages in cases involving harm from chemical and industrial processes where the defendant was aware of the risks but failed to warn the public.

Real-World Example of Punitive Damages & Personal Injury Cases

In the landmark case of Taylor v. Williams, the court awarded punitive damages of $5 million to a grieving mother who lost her young child because of a drunk driver. The jury, in its deliberations, concluded that the defendant’s decision to drive under the influence constituted a willful and reckless disdain for the sanctity of human life. 

Punitive Damages and Florida Law

Florida Statute § 768.72 outlines the requirements for claiming punitive damages in the Sunshine State. Under this statute, you and your legal team must prove that the defendant was guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. 

Intentional Misconduct is defined as actions that the defendant knew were wrong, and despite that knowledge, they intentionally pursued that course of action, indifferent to the consequences.

Gross Negligence, on the other hand, implies conduct so reckless or wanting in care that it constitutes a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.

Furthermore, Florida law imposes several key limitations on punitive damages. 

Ratio to Compensatory Damages

The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated in cases such as BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore and State Farm v. Campbell that punitive damages must be reasonable and proportional to the harm suffered and the compensatory damages awarded. While Florida law does not set a strict ratio, in one recent case, the Florida Supreme Court stated that punitive damages greater than a 3:1 ratio are excessive unless there are extraordinary facts and circumstances to exceed that amount. 

Statutory Caps

Florida Statute § 768.73 generally caps punitive damages at three times the compensatory damages awarded to each claimant, or $500,000, whichever is greater. However, there are exceptions to this cap, depending on your circumstances. 

The cap does not apply in certain situations, for instance, if the defendant intended to harm you and did. There are also no caps if the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which would constitute a disregard for human life.

Claiming or seeking punitive damages is difficult without an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer on your side. Your attorney will need to investigate the details of your case to determine if the courts may award you punitive damages. 

Gathering Evidence For Punitive Damages

Gathering evidence for punitive damages in a lawsuit requires a meticulous and strategic approach. It must be compelling enough to demonstrate that the at-fault person’s actions were not merely negligent but egregiously reckless or intentionally harmful. The evidence must paint a clear picture of wrongdoing that justifies a punitive award. 

Here are some types of evidence typically needed:

  • Accident reports
  • Witness statements
  • Expert testimony 
  • Financial records
  • Internal correspondence
  • Prior criminal history
  • Digital files, social media posts, etc
  • Surveillance or video footage

Gathering this evidence demands a thorough and often aggressive investigative process. Our Florida personal injury attorneys realize we play a crucial role in finding and gathering this evidence. To do this, we may use subpoenas and court orders to obtain documentation and testimony that might otherwise be inaccessible. 

Contact Our Florida Personal Injury Lawyers

Determining whether your case qualifies for punitive damages is a complex process, but that’s where our experience comes into play. At Prosper Shaked Accident Injury Attorneys, PA, we will meticulously review the details of your situation. Our goal is not only to address the tangible losses you’ve suffered but also to evaluate whether the defendant’s conduct was so egregious that it demands additional punishment under the law.

You deserve to have a fierce advocate on your side, someone who is deeply invested in your well-being and your right to compensation. Attorney Prosper Shaked is that advocate for you.

Let Prosper Shaked help you through this difficult time. Call us for a FREE consultation and review of your case at 305-694-2676 or fill out our confidential contact form. We fight for the rights of accident victims. Call us today!