Punitive Damages in Civil Lawsuits in Florida
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are one of the types of money damages that a plaintiff can recover in a lawsuit. If punitive damages are awarded, they are generally designed to punish the defendant for untoward conduct and/or serve as a deterrent to others who might contemplate the same or similar behavior in the future.
Claims for Punitive Damages Under Florida Law
In Florida, the law allows for the recovery of punitive damages in civil actions, but there are specific requirements.
The Florida law that allows a plaintiff to make a claim for punitive damages in civil cases in the first place, in a complaint or in a subsequent claim, for example, is actually framed in the negative; it states that a claim for punitive damages is not permitted unless the claimant can show that there is a reasonable basis for allowing this type of damage recovery.
Whether the claim will ultimately be successful is another matter. Under Florida law, punitive damages can be awarded if there is clear and convincing evidence to support a finding by the trier of fact that the defendant was guilty of either “intentional misconduct” or “gross negligence.”
Intentional Misconduct and Gross Negligence
The terms “intentional misconduct” and “gross negligence” are defined by Florida law:
- “Intentional misconduct” is conduct that the defendant undertook knowing it was wrong, and knowing that there was a strong probability that injury or damage would result from the conduct.
- “Gross negligence” is conduct that is so reckless, or so “wanting in care”, that it constitutes a knowing disregard of or indifference to the rights, lives, or safety of others.
While these definitions set the standard that is applied, whether the particular conduct of a particular defendant satisfies either, or even both, of these definitions will always depend on the particular facts presented in each case.
Limitation on Punitive Damages
If punitive damages are awarded, Florida law places a limitation on the amount of money damages that a claimant can receive.
Generally, punitive damages cannot exceed the greater of:
- three times the amount of compensatory damages, or
- the sum of $500,000
There are exceptions in the law to this general limitation.
For example, there is no limitation at all in cases where the factfinder finds that the defendant had the specific intent to harm the claimant, and did, in fact, harm the claimant.
Also, where the defendant’s conduct was motivated by “unreasonable financial gain,” there is a specific provision of the law that provides the punitive damages limitation. In such a case, punitive damages may be awarded if the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct, along with the high likelihood of consequent injury, was known to whoever was responsible for making the defendant’s policy decisions. The amount of punitive damages that can be awarded is the greater of:
- four times the amount of compensatory damages, or
- 2 million dollars
If you would like more information about punitive damage awards, or are interested in understanding how damages may be determined in connection with any personal injury claim, contact a Fort Pierce personal injury lawyer at Sholtes Law, PLLC.