What Are Punitive Damages?

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What Are Punitive Damages?

Florida tort laws allow you to seek compensation for damages when you sustain a personal injury. Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages. However, some injured victims receive punitive damages because the at-fault party’s actions were grossly negligent or intentional.

When Are Punitive Damages in a Florida Personal Injury Case?

When Are Punitive Damages in a Florida Personal Injury Case?

Punitive damages do not compensate an injured party for financial losses, injuries, or emotional damages. Instead, punitive damages are awarded as punishment for the defendant’s behavior. However, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the defendant’s behavior meets the statutory requirements for punitive damages.

Florida Statute §768.72 defines the conduct that justifies punitive damages as:

  • Gross Negligence – Conduct that demonstrates a conscious indifference or disregard for the safety, life, or rights of other people exposed to the conduct.
  • Intentional Misconduct – The defendant knew the wrongdoing had a high risk of damage or injury to the plaintiff and intentionally continued with the conduct despite that knowledge.

The burden of proof is higher for punitive damages than for personal injury damages. Punitive damages require the jurors to find the defendant’s actions meet the level for punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence.

Personal injury cases require the injured party to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. That means the jurors believe there is more than a 50% chance that the allegations against the defendant are truer than untrue.

However, clear and convincing evidence is a step above the preponderance of the evidence standard. It is also below the beyond a reasonable doubt threshold, which is used in criminal cases. 

Clear and convincing means the evidence proves the allegations are “highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.” The jurors must believe there is a high probability that the defendant’s actions were intentional or grossly negligent. 

Florida Places Caps on Punitive Damages 

Florida does not cap compensatory damages in personal injury cases. However, Florida statutes place a cap on punitive damages. They cannot exceed three times the amount of the compensatory damages or $500,000.

However, there are exceptions to the caps on punitive damages in Florida. For example, caps do not apply if a jury finds the defendant acted with the specific intent to harm the plaintiff. Also, the cap increases to four times compensatory damages or $2 million if the defendant acted out of a motivation for unreasonable financial gain.

When the case involves abuse of a child, a person with developmental disabilities, or an older adult, the caps on punitive damage might not apply. Also, if the defendant was intoxicated when they caused the harm or injury, punitive damages may not apply.

What Types of Cases Can Result In Punitive Damages?

A person can receive punitive damages in any type of personal injury case. Examples include:

Recovering punitive damages can be challenging because the burden of proof is higher, and the laws governing punitive damages are complicated. For example, due process principles apply in cases involving punitive damages. In addition, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that punitive damages cannot be granted without merit or in excessive amounts. 

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Punitive damages can be a multiple of compensatory damages if they do not exceed the maximum amount. Compensatory damages “compensate” the injured party for their losses. Losses can include financial, physical, and emotional damages.

Examples of the types of damages recovered for a personal injury claim include:

  • Medical bills and expenses
  • Cost of nursing care, physical therapy, and personal care
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Disabilities and permanent impairments
  • Loss of wages, benefits, salaries, and other forms of income
  • Disfigurement and scarring
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Mental anguish and trauma
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • A decrease in the injured party’s quality of life

Carefully documenting damages can increase the amount of punitive damages. Always keep copies of all receipts, bills, and invoices related to your injuries and recovery. 

Our personal injury lawyers work with you to document the severity and extent of your damages. If you sustained permanent impairments, we work with medical specialists, financial professionals, and other expert witnesses to ensure we maximize the value of your personal injury claim. 

It is essential to seek prompt medical treatment after an injury or accident. Delays in medical care could result in defenses that decrease the value of damages. Therefore, seek immediate medical treatment after an injury and then contact a lawyer for legal advice regarding your options for recovering damages. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Tampa Personal Injury Lawyers

Our Winters & Yonker, P.A. lawyers review your case to determine if punitive damages are justified. We fight for maximum compensation for all damages available in your case. Call or contact our law firm to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced Tampa personal injury attorneys.

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