Punitive damages, as the name suggests, are meant to punish a wrongdoer and act as a deterrent to bad behavior. Not every claimant can ask for punitive damages. In fact, the requirements needed to seek punitive damages are strict. Florida Statute Section 768.72 allows punitive damages only for extreme conduct, gross negligence and intentional misconduct and even then, only when “there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.”
Understanding when the court can award punitive damages is important for anyone who might be involved in a lawsuit. Here is a short overview to how punitive damages work in Florida and who might be eligible for them.
Categories of Damage in Florida Civil Cases
In Florida, there are three basic categories of damages that a plaintiff can receive in a lawsuit or settlement.
- Economic Damages – Economic damages are used to financially compensate a plaintiff for the direct losses the plaintiff suffered due to an accident/incident. These include past and future medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and more.
- Non-Economic Damages – These damages compensate the plaintiff for losses like physical pain and suffering, emotional and psychological damage, loss of quality of life, and more.
- Punitive Damages – Unlike the first two types of damages, which are compensatory, punitive damages are put into place to punish the individual or entity responsible for the incident and thereby deter the bad behavior. They are available only in egregious circumstances.
Intentional Misconduct v. Gross Negligence
Under the Florida punitive damages statute, there are two situations where punitive damages are appropriate. These are when the defendant’s actions are grossly negligent, or the defendant commits intentional misconduct. Both are expressly defined by Florida law:
- Gross negligence exists when the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct (Florida Statutes 768.72 (2)(b)); and
- Intentional misconduct exists when the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage to the claimant would result and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage (Florida Statutes 768.72 (2)(a)).
Asking for Punitive Damages
Personal injury attorneys must ask for punitive damages in a specific way and it must be during a hearing before the judge. This will determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the claimant to present a claim for punitive damages to the jury. You can’t just ask for punitive damages at the end of a trial nor can the jury simply tack these on to damages awarded in a verdict. If the legal process is not followed, a jury cannot even consider awarding punitive damages.
At Weinstein & Cohen, we have more than 50 years of combined experience fighting for accident victim’s rights. Our experienced Miami and Naples accident attorneys at Weinstein & Cohen will put your priorities first. If you or someone you care about has been injured or involved in an accident across South Florida or Southwest Florida, contact the Miami and Naples personal injury lawyers at Weinstein & Cohen at 305-374-1011 or 239-793-3331, or visit fairnessforall.com for a free legal consultation to learn more about your options.