Accidents and Punitive Damages in Florida
In Florida a civil action, a defendant may be liable for punitive damages (those which exceed necessary compensation in order to punish the wrongdoer) if they are found guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. But what does this mean in terms of the types of accidents you see or encounter on the road?
Intentional Misconduct and Gross Negligence
Florida law defines “intentional misconduct” as someone having actual knowledge or the wrongfulness of their conduct and the high probability that injury or damage would result and, despite this knowledge, intentionally pursuing that conduct anyway, resulting in injury or damage. On the other hand, “gross negligence” characterizes behavior that was so reckless or lacking in reasonable care that it constitutes a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of others exposed to the conduct.
Circumstances for Punitive Damages
Although punitive damages are only awarded in a small number of cases, judges can typically use their discretion in whether or to allow the jury to consider punitive damages in a given case, and will if they consider the circumstances of the case to be egregious. For example, if someone is hurt as a result of a drunk driver, this typically gives rise to the consideration of punitive damages. And in a 2011 Florida case, a judge instructed a jury that they could consider awarding punitive damages in a texting case, where the driver hit and killed someone because they took their eyes off the road in order to text. Judges sometimes use cases like this to set an example and deter similar conduct.
There are other circumstances that may give rise to punitive damages, including the following:
- Certain criminal activities and/or being charged with manslaughter;
- Certain traffic violations, such as excessive speeding or failing to stop at traffic lights (combined with other reckless behavior) that leads to injury or death; or
- Having knowledge of a vehicle defect that could give rise to injury or death and failing to address that defect.
In Florida, punitive damages are capped at three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a case or $500,000 (whichever is greater). However, there are exceptions to this cap; if:
- The wrongdoer was motivated solely by unreasonable financial gain (in combination with required elements of knowledge and unreasonable dangerous conduct); or
- Where the wrongdoer had a specific intent to harm the person and their conduct did, in fact, harm this person.
In these circumstances, the cap can be raised to four times the amount of compensatory damages, $2 million, or even eliminated entirely.
A serious injury can cause immense pain and suffering as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions of dollars – in medical and continued care costs. Mike Walker has effectively handled a number of serious personal injury cases and is able to help you or your loved one obtain the compensation they need. Contact the office if you or your loved one has been seriously injured because of the careless or intentional actions of another.