Damages that are awarded as punishment for the conduct of the person who caused an injury are known as “punitive damages.” The idea behind punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer for acting with a wanton disregard for the safety of others. An additional goal of punitive damages is to impose a form of punishment that will deter others from engaging in the same or similar conduct.
In many personal injury cases, the type of damages attorneys can demand on behalf of the victim include economic damages and non-economic damages. These include, but are not limited to:
- All reasonable medical expenses;
- All lost earnings, lost time, and lost earning capacity;
- All property damage caused by the defendant’s conduct; and
- All Injury, pain, disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, and loss of capacity for enjoyment of life.
Additionally, in death cases, our Miami injury lawyers demand payment for medical bills and the loss of financial support and guidance the deceased would have provided to his or her loved ones.
How does a jury decide to award punitive damages?
Punitive damages belong to a special category of damages that must be specifically pled and proven. They are not guaranteed, even if you win your case, and they fall into their own separate category. In Florida, there are only two times when punitive damages may be awarded. As the Florida Supreme Court explains in W.R. Grace v. Waters, punitive damages are appropriate only when the defendant’s actions are “fraudulent, malicious, deliberately violent or oppressive, or committed with such gross negligence as to indicate a wanton disregard for the rights of others.”
In short, if the defendant knew that he or she was intentionally doing something wrong, or if the behavior of the defendant exhibited an indifference to the lives and safety of others, a jury may award punitive damages.
Some examples of punitive damage cases
Each case is different. Miami personal injury lawyers bring claims for punitive damages when the facts warrant such a claim. Claims for punitive damages must be reasonably based on some evidence of serious misconduct. A few examples common to Miami, Miami Gardens, Hialeah, and other Miami-Dade locations are:
- Auto accident cases. Individuals who drive while intoxicated may be liable for punitive damages.
- Intentional misconduct cases. If a party is injured as a result of an intentional tort (for example, an assault or battery), then punitive damages may be appropriate.
- Truck accident cases. A shipping company that lets a driver operate a vehicle knowing in advance that the truck has not passed inspection and/or is not safe to drive may be held liable for punitive damages.
- Premises liability actions. If a shopping mall knows that an escalator doesn’t work and poses a real and serious risk of injury or death to its invitees and fails to place warning signs around the escalator, the mall owners may be liable for punitive damages.
- Product liability case. If a manufacturer intentionally uses cheap parts that it knows will fail at high speeds or in certain conditions which could lead to serious injury or death, the manufacturer may be liable for punitive damages.
- Medical malpractice. In Florida, punitive damages may be awarded for medical malpractice (in addition to economic and non-economic damages), but there are limits.
There are many other examples. Cars that travel 100mph on a road where the speed limit is 45mph should pay a higher price for the deaths or injuries caused by such reckless conduct.
Limits on punitive damages in Florida
Florida has a limit on punitive damages. Subject to certain statutory exceptions, an award of punitive damages may not exceed (1) three times the amount of compensatory damages to each claimant entitled to punitive damages; or (2) the sum of $500,000.00 – whichever is higher. But, where the jury finds; (1) that the defendant’s wrongful conduct was motivated solely by unreasonable financial gain; and (2) that the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct when combined with the high likelihood of injury caused by the conduct was actually known by the managing agent, director, officer, or other person responsible for making policy decisions for the defendant, the jury may award punitive damages not to exceed the greater of (1) four times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to each claimant entitled to punitive damages; or (2) $2,000,000.00. If the jury finds that, at the time of injury, the defendant had a specific intent to harm the plaintiff and the defendant’s conduct did in fact harm the plaintiff, there is no cap on punitive damages.
The Miami and Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys at Yeboah Law Group, P.A. understand when punitive claim actions are warranted and when there isn’t a reasonable basis to bring a punitive damage claim. We fight to get our clients every dollar they deserve and to punish wrongdoers when necessary. For tough legal representation, please call us at (800) TELL-SAM to make an appointment. You can also fill out our contact form. We have convenient locations in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Boca Raton & Key West, Florida.