Punitive Damages: What They Mean for Personal Injury Victims in Florida
If you or someone you love suffers injuries in an accident, you may want the at-fault party to be punished. Most damages are meant to compensate a victim for losses related to their injuries. They are not designed to punish. However, a special class of damages known as punitive damages are designed to punish an at-fault party.
However, there are strict standards in Florida that determine when a plaintiff is entitled to a punitive damage award. Lawsuits seeking punitive damages are different from standard cases involving personal injury. Moreover, punitive damages awards are rare in Florida.
Speak to an experienced Gainesville injury lawyer to discuss your options and determine if you have a case.
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Punitive Damages: What Are They?
In Florida, courts will only grant punitive damage awards related to an accident or injury if the court determines that a defendant’s actions (or their inactions) were grossly negligent or intentional.
It is rare for punitive damages to be awarded in Florida personal injury cases. Punitive damages are typically reserved for instances where a message needs to be sent to the community at large or a particular industry as a form of deterrent.
They may come into play for cases involving drunk driving. Moreover, they may apply in cases of intentional violence, such as assault or wrongful death. The purpose of awarding punitive damages is to punish and deter the defendant (or other individuals) from repeating behaviors that ultimately caused the plaintiff’s injury.
By levying a high punishment-oriented award on a defendant, they will be less likely to engage in harmful conduct in the future. Likewise, the community at large will be less likely to engage in similar conduct due to the financial consequences of such behavior.
Punitive damages are usually awarded in addition to any compensation that the plaintiff receives in the case. These damages are separate from compensatory damages, such as property loss, pain and suffering, medical treatment, and lost wages.
Do Punitive Damages Depend on the Injury Suffered?
Punitive damages make up a different category of damages in your personal injury lawsuit. A punitive damage award is typically proportionate to your compensatory damage award. It is unlikely that you would receive an award for punitive damage that is much higher than your compensatory damages.
Because they are treated separately, winning compensatory damages in a case does not necessarily mean you will be awarded punitive damages, too.
Does Florida Cap Punitive Damages?
Florida law limits the dollar amount of the punitive damages you are permitted to collect in a personal injury case. Florida limits punitive awards to a figure three times the compensatory damage award, or $500,000, whichever is higher.
For example, if a plaintiff is awarded $1 million for compensatory damages, the amount of a punitive award will not exceed $3 million. There’s an exemption to Florida’s punitive damages cap in certain situations.
If a defendant’s misconduct was for financial gain, the victim could collect punitive damages up to four times the compensatory damage award, or $2 million, whichever is greater.
An example of where this exemption may come into play is when a company chooses not to address a dangerous defect in their product in order to maximize profits.
Also, Florida juries are not instructed regarding damage caps before deliberation. When juries decide on an award amount, it is always based on what compensation they deem is appropriate. Judges are entitled to pierce a cap based on a jury’s decision or override a cap at their own discretion.
Can a Lawyer Help Pursue Punitive Damages in An Injury Case?
Florida personal injury lawsuits are incredibly complicated, particularly when seeking punitive damages. The laws are stringent regarding cases eligible for such damage awards. You should consult a skilled Gainesville personal injury lawyer to improve the chance of receiving a punitive damage award and the compensation you deserve.
Most of the time, you have to prove you suffered damages by a preponderance of the evidence. This is one of the lowest evidentiary standards in the law and only requires you to show that it is more likely than not that you suffered damages. Punitive damages require a higher standard of proof.
To recover punitive damages, you must show clear and convincing evidence that they are warranted. This means you must establish that it is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue that punitive damages are necessary in your case.
No attorney can guarantee a specific outcome in your case involving punitive damages related to a personal injury lawsuit. However, a personal injury attorney can increase the chances that you receive punitive damages for your claim, increasing your compensation and allowing you to achieve justice after your injury. Contact an attorney to discuss your claim.