When are Punitive Damages Awarded?
In Florida, those whose personal injury claims are successful are eligible to collect a variety of damages, including compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, future loss of income, and in some cases pain and suffering. Generally, the amount and type of damages that a plaintiff can collect will depend on the facts of the case, including the severity of the injury and the level of negligence or recklessness exhibited by the defendant. In especially serious cases, courts are often willing to award what are referred to as punitive damages. These damages are not awarded simply to compensate the victim for his or her losses, but to punish the defendant. A recent court case clarified that while punitive damages are permissible in Florida, they are by no means a given and whether they are awarded is highly fact specific.
Understanding damages can be difficult, so if you have questions about your own case and what types of compensation you could expect to collect if successful, you should consider speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney who is well-versed in state law and can evaluate your case.
Florida law specifically limits how much a jury can award a plaintiff in punitive damages. For example, a punitive damages award cannot exceed $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff, whichever is greater. However, there are exceptions to this general rule, including when a court determines that:
- The conduct in question was motivated solely by unreasonable financial gain; and
- The defendant’s director, officer, or managing agent was aware of the dangerous nature of the conduct and knew that it was likely to result in injury.
In these cases, courts can award punitive damages of up to four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2,000,000. The final exception to the limit on damages caps is when a court determines that at the time of injury the defendant specifically intended to harm the claimant and that his or her conduct did in fact lead to an injury. In these circumstances, there is no limit to the amount of punitive damages that a court can award.
Recently, two separate Florida courts addressed issues related to awarding punitive damages. Although both courts affirmed the awarding of punitive damages, these kinds of decisions are relatively rare. In fact, according to a study published by Cornell University, punitive damages are only awarded in around 3.5 percent of jury trials and 5.3 percent of bench trials. The study also revealed that the highest rate of awards generally occurred when an individual filed suit against a large corporation, or when an accident involved fraud or intentional harm.
Call Today to Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
Florida juries are typically instructed to only award punitive damages when a defendant’s conduct was intentional or grossly negligent, so being represented by an attorney in Fort Lauderdale who can introduce evidence supporting these assertions is critical for plaintiffs. To have your own case evaluated, please contact Boone & Davis at 954-566-9919 today.