Punitive Damages

Florida personal injury laws allow injured victims to seek compensation for several different types of damages. Punitive damages are one type of damage that a defendant may be ordered to pay. An award of punitive damages is rare, but there are many personal injury cases where punitive damages may be awarded. 

Damages Available in a Florida Personal Injury Case

Before discussing punitive damages, it can be helpful to understand the types of damages you could receive for a personal injury case.

First, compensatory damages are awarded to compensate you for the losses caused by the accident and your injuries. These damages fall into two categories: economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are financial losses such as:

  • Medical bills
  • Travel expenses
  • Medications and medical supplies
  • Physical therapy
  • Lost wages 
  • Personal care
  • Nursing services

Non-economic damages refer to the pain and suffering you experienced because of the injury, such as:

  • Physical discomfort
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional distress
  • Impairments and disabilities
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Decreased quality of life

In addition to compensatory damages, a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit may receive punitive damages. However, the purpose of punitive damages differs from the purpose of compensatory damages.

Punitive Damages in Florida Personal Injury Cases 

Punitive damages are also called exemplary damages. They do not compensate the plaintiff for damages. Instead, punitive damages are a punishment for the defendant’s conduct.

There are other purposes of awarding punitive damages other than to punish the defendant. For example, an award of punitive damages may deter the defendant from engaging in similar conduct in the future. Moreover, they may deter other people from committing similar acts.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded in Florida?

Florida Statute §768.72 explains the requirements for an award of punitive damages. The plaintiff must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant committed intentional misconduct or that their actions rose to the level of gross negligence.

Gross negligence is conduct that shows a conscious disregard or indifference for the safety of others. The defendant is guilty of intentional misconduct when they proceed with an action, even though they knew the act could harm another person.

The evidence against the defendant must be “clear and convincing.” This standard of proof is higher than the standard of proof used to prove negligence in a personal injury claim. Clear and convincing evidence demonstrates that it is highly and substantially more likely that the allegations against the defendant are true than untrue.

State and federal laws may impact the award of punitive damages. In most cases, the amount of punitive damages cannot be excessive, and jury instructions must be clear about when and how to award punitive damages. 

What Types of Cases Could Result in Punitive Damages?

If the plaintiff meets the burden of proof for punitive damages, the jury can impose damages on the defendant in any personal injury case. 

Examples of cases in which the jury may award punitive damages include:

  • A drunk driver who causes a DUI accident that results in injury or death to another person
  • A company that knowingly sells a defective product that injures a person
  • A dog owner who purposefully allows his dog to roam free after the dog has bitten or injured another person
  • A property owner who knows about a dangerous condition on their property but fails to correct the problem for guests
  • A person intentionally shoots, stabs, or injuries a person with malice and forethought

Ordinary negligence is not sufficient for an award of punitive damages. The conduct must rise to the level of gross negligence or intentional misconduct for punitive damages to be justified. 

How Much Can I Receive in Punitive Damages?

Florida places a cap on the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded in a personal injury case. The maximum amount of punitive damages you could receive for your case is three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000.

There are exceptions to the cap on punitive damages. 

If the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff, there are no restrictions on punitive damages. In addition, cases involving child abuse, elder abuse, an intoxicated defendant, or a person with disabilities may not have a punitive damages cap.

When the defendant acted out of the desire for personal financial gain, the cap for punitive damages increases. The jury may award four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2,000,000.

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Clearwater Personal Injury Attorneys

You deserve full compensation for all damages. Our legal team aggressively pursues maximum compensation for your personal injury claim, including punitive damages. Contact our law firm to schedule a free consultation with one of our Clearwater personal injury attorneys.