When someone is injured or killed due to the negligence of another party, they often file a personal injury claim. The goal of this type of lawsuit is to recover compensation, or “damages”, for the victim. This compensation is typically allocated to cover expenses like medical bills and lost income while they recover from their injury. In cases of wrongful death, the compensation is awarded to the surviving family to cover funeral costs and emotional damages.
In some circumstances, personal injury cases are taken a step further by seeking punitive damages, which are also called exemplary damages. Punitive damages are rare, and are reserved for cases in which the defendant acted in an intentional or grossly negligent way. Specifically, Florida statute 768.72 says that a defendant can only be held liable for punitive damages if based on clear evidence they were “personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.”
Why Are Punitive Damages So Rare?
When compared to compensatory damages, punitive damages have a very high standard of proof. This makes punitive damages very rare in Florida, according to the injury attorneys at Salter, Healy, Rivera & Heptner in St. Petersburg. Clear and conclusive evidence needs to be provided that shows the defendant acted grossly negligent. Punitive damages are used as a way to send a message to a company or to an industry that intentionally negligent actions are not okay; the damages act as a punishment and ideally a deterrent.
Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages
For context, let’s examine some examples of negligence versus gross negligence. A driver who got distracted and accidentally hit another car would be found negligent, but not purposefully so. Another example of negligence would be a grocery store that knew about a spill but did not clean it up or put out warning signage in time, and someone slipped.
An example of gross negligence that could result in punitive damages would be if a company knew they had a defective and dangerous product but continued to sell it. When it comes to motor vehicle accidents, gross negligence could be found if a driver hit another driver (or pedestrian or bicyclist) in an act of road rage, or if they were driving under the influence. Employers can also be found grossly negligent if they violate OSHA safety standards, causing an employee to become injured or perish.
Damage Caps & Exceptions
Every state differs in their laws on limiting compensation amounts for injury lawsuits. Some states place limits on damages in general, and some just for certain types of cases like medical malpractice. Florida allows for punitive damages to be up to three times the amount of compensatory damages in a case, or $500,000, whichever is higher.
There is one exception to this cap. If it’s determined that the defendant’s behavior was for financial gain, the punitive damages may go up to four times as much as the compensatory damages, or $2 million, whichever is higher.
Florida is one of the states that have caps on punitive damages, but not every state limits punitive damages. For information on local laws, contact an attorney in your city. They will be able to guide you through the process of filing a personal injury and punitive damages claim.