What you need to know before seeking punitive damages
Filing a lawsuit for punitive damages is different from a typical personal injury case.
Florida personal injury claims are focused on financial recovery for specific items based on the level of negligence attributed to each involved party. Claimants are always assessed for personal contribution to the claimed injuries when they are the result of an accident, whether that’s an auto accident or a premises liability issue.
Punitive damage claims are much more strict when it comes to proving the level of negligence shown by the defendant. There must always be extenuating circumstances beyond an unintentional result of a bad decision.
In short, Florida statute says that the plaintiff’s attorney must prove “gross negligence” on the part of the defendant by supplying specific valid evidence of reckless disregard for others when the injury occurred. Damages are considered punitive because they are intended to set an example for other defendants. For this reason, these damages are also known as “exemplary” damages” in Florida.
Regardless of the circumstances of the injury or the type of lawsuit, it takes an experienced and aggressive attorney to win any punitive damages claim in Florida because of the elevated standard for proof. In addition, punitive awards may be subject to maximum allowance amounts.
Punitive damages for car and truck accidents
One of the most common punitive damage suits in Florida is wrongful death claims from auto or truck accidents where one driver is totally responsible for the crash. Intoxicated driving is commonly a component of these lawsuits, but not always. Road rage accidents could also be subject to a punitive damage lawsuit based on the specific material case facts.
In order to win your case, it’s essential for your lawyer to prove that the defendant’s behavior was not only negligent, but amounted to “gross negligence” (they acted with full understanding of the reckless behavior). For example, shipping companies could be liable for punitive damages when they violate the rules of operation in managing their drivers, which can enhance a claim’s value greatly.
Punitive claims against employers (workplace accidents)
Employers can be sued for punitive damages when they violate safety standards, which results in injuries or death to an employee. Most employers are protected by the workers’ compensation system in that they cannot be sued by an injured employee. However, they don’t have complete immunity from personal injury claims requesting whole damages when they have violated the OSHA safety standards for workplace environments.
The material case details against an employer are vital to a successful case. An aggressive Florida personal injury attorney can investigate the employer for all operational violations as evidenced in the claim.
Product liability punitive damages claims
Punitive damages can also be awarded in certain product liability lawsuits. While many products are listed by the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) as predetermined defective items, individual isolated claims can be filed when a victim is injured using a specific product. This can happen over time as well as a single event, and cases can be complicated and strongly contested.
Experienced legal representation in product liability lawsuits is essential. The primary advantage for a plaintiff is the fact that manufacturers are held to “strict” liability standard, meaning you aren’t required to prove negligence.
Punitive damages in medical malpractice claims
Medical malpractice claims can arise from a number of scenarios involving medical treatment. Claims can be filed against facilities as well as physicians, but doctors are protected to a certain degree based on their status as expert witnesses.
Claims against facilities can vary greatly, often including evidence of communication breakdowns when multiple treatment teams are part of a medical procedure. Shift turnover information can also be a component of a claim, and cases often require significant investigation and evaluation by an experienced legal professional.
Punitive damage caps
Florida is one of a handful of states that has formally capped the amount of punitive damage awards that claimants may receive. The limitations vary based on the amount of compensatory damages allowed, and the totals can range from a $500,000 to $2,000,000.
Compensatory damages are determined by both special damages and general damages for long-term pain-and-suffering, and then limited to a multiplication factor based on the degree of negligence in the case. The law is complicated, and your attorney is required to present the evidence within the scope of the statute for a maximum award.
It’s important to understand that punitive damages are rare in personal injury cases and only apply in situations where the court sees a need to send a direct message to the community or industry by using the award as a form of punishment.
The attorney you select to file your case can make a major difference in the outcome. Always select an experienced Florida personal injury attorney with an established track record of results in punitive damage cases.