Are Punitive Damages an Option in Florida Personal Injury Cases?
If you were injured in an accident that was not your fault, you are probably familiar with your basic rights under Florida law. You may qualify to recover compensation from the at-fault party, and many times these incidents are caused by negligence. In the practice of law, negligence means more than mere carelessness as it is known familiarly. It is a theory of liability that requires you to prove certain sets of facts in order to succeed in obtaining damages. You must show that the at-fault party caused the accident through a failure to exercise reasonable care.
However, some personal injuries result from actions that go beyond the failure to act reasonably under the circumstances. A party may be reckless or intentional in causing harm to another person, which raises the issue of another type of damage. Punitive damages are available in some situations, but the bar is quite high in terms of recovering them. Your Florida personal injury lawyer can detail whether punitive damages are an option for your case, and a summary of the relevant concepts is informative.
How Compensation Work in Accident Cases
The fundamental point of monetary damages in a personal injury claim is to reimburse the victim for their pecuniary losses and make them whole with respect to other consequences. This is not always possible in a real-life situation, especially where the victim suffered serious, catastrophic injuries. However, the laws in Florida aim to alleviate the devastation of an accident through two types of compensation:
- Economic Damages: Some losses you suffer from injuries are tangible and can be measured in exact value. The largest portion of your economic damages will likely be the costs of medical care, including emergency treatment, hospitalization, surgery, and other care. You may also be entitled to amounts for your lost wages if you missed work, as well as the expenses for transportation to doctor’s appointments and pain medications.
- Noneconomic Damages: Your life is impacted in immeasurable ways when you suffer injuries, including effects on your quality of life and inability to enjoy your favorite activities. Noneconomic damages are commonly known as pain and suffering compensation, but they also include amounts for emotional distress, scarring and disfigurement, and others.
Wrongful death cases are also a type of personal injury claim in which the victim was killed because of the accident. Surviving family members can recover compensation for economic and non-economic damages, including losses for consortium, guidance, love, support, and financial contributions.
The Role of Punitive Damages in Florida
While compensation for economic and noneconomic losses aims to make the victim whole, Florida’s statute on punitive damages works differently. Instead of reimbursement, the laws are meant to punish the person or entity who caused the accident or incident. They are also referred to as exemplary damages since a secondary purpose is to make an example of the wrongdoer. Punitive discourage others from engaging in the same forms of misconduct, thus protecting the public in general.
Punitive damages are not intended to punish acts that are truly accidental because negligence principles cover these cases. When conduct goes beyond negligence, the at-fault party may be liable for recklessly or intentionally causing the incident that led to your injuries. Assault, aggravated assault, sexual abuse or assault, and many other offenses can lead to horrific harm to the victim.
As you might expect, many cases involving criminal acts trigger Florida’s laws on punitives. However, always keep in mind that criminal cases are separate from your rights to compensation. The end result of a criminal matter is guilty or not guilty, but you will not recover damages through this process. In fact, you are not even a party to a criminal case. A victim who is a witness and testifies against the defendant.
To obtain compensation after a criminal act caused harm, you will need to file a civil lawsuit. If the criminal case resulted in a conviction, this information is solid evidence to prove your claim. It is also useful when you are seeking punitive damages.
Florida’s Statute on Punitive Damages
The bar is set rather high when pursuing punitive in a personal injury case, but many victims will qualify. Under the law, you will need to prove one of two sets of facts:
- The defendant engaged in intentional misconduct, usually criminal acts. That person had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act and was aware that it could result in injuries to someone. Despite this knowledge, the wrongdoer still decided to engage in the misconduct.
- Gross negligence includes conduct that may not be criminal in nature but it is still extreme and beyond the parameters of negligence. The statutory language points to acts that are reckless and wanting in care, such that they demonstrate a disregard of the life and rights of potential victims.
Damages Available for Many Personal Injury Cases
Victims may be entitled to amounts for compensation, punitive damages, or both, in a wide range of accidents.
Traffic Collisions: It is true that the majority of motor vehicle crashes are caused by negligence, but some acts behind the wheel rise to the level of intentional or reckless misconduct. An intoxicated motorist who causes a DUI accident may be liable for punitive damages, as could a driver who was drag racing. Entire entities could be held accountable for truck collisions, such as a company that violates Hours of Service (HOS) laws for operators.
There are also accidents that involve vulnerable road users in Florida, including motorcycle, pedestrian, and bicycle crashes. The same principles apply in terms of compensation and punitives.
Slip and Falls: Accidents that happen because of Florida premises liability laws cover dangerous conditions on property. Victims may seek punitive damages if an owner intentionally violates building codes or regulations, leading to an injury-causing accident.
Defective Products: Manufacturers of dangerous, defective consumer products are subject to product liability laws, and victims injured by these items can seek both compensatory and punitive damages. A company could be liable for punitive if it conceals information on defects or the harmful effects of a product.
Criminal Acts: You can pursue the offender for punitives if you were injured by a criminal attack. Remember that some cases of criminal conduct could also make a property owner liable since premises liability laws hold parties accountable for negligent security.
Medical Malpractice: Cases involving medical negligence by a health care provider could raise the issue of punitive damages if a hospital or other facility concealed problems and then allowed the physician to practice medicine.
Legal Process for Florida Injury Claims
In a typical accident case, the first step is filing a claim with the insurance company that covers liability for the at-fault party. This may be a motorist, property owner, business, or other entity. Often, a personal injury claim will be settled through negotiations. In some cases, you may participate in mediation to further settlement discussions. If the insurance company will not settle for a fair amount, you must file a lawsuit in court.
The basic process works the same when you are seeking punitive damages. However, you need to comply with the laws that require notice and court rules on when to raise the issue. Note that punitive is an issue for the jury to decide in a civil case, as the statute is not directed at insurers and settlement discussions. The concept will most certainly come up when intentional or gross negligence leads to your injuries.
If successful in claiming punitive damages, you may recover the greater of:
- Three times your compensatory damages; or,
Potential Defenses to Claims for Punitive Damages in Florida
A defendant may apply two different strategies in a personal injury case, and the first is the matter of liability without consideration of punitive. The person or entity that caused the incident may defend your claim on the grounds of comparative fault, which essentially places part of the blame on your own acts. If your own negligent acts were a factor, you might receive zero or reduced compensation.
There are also defenses to the issue of punitive damages so that the defendant will fight against allegations of intentional or grossly negligent conduct. However, this approach is tough to defend when a case involves a conviction for criminal conduct.
Legal Counsel for Accident Cases in Florida
Retaining representation is essential for any personal injury case, including those where punitive damages could be an issue. You can count on a Florida personal injury attorney for assistance with all aspects of your claim, including:
- Gathering evidence and conducting an investigation;
- Preparing claims forms to seek compensation and punitive damages from the insurance company;
- Advocating on your behalf during settlement discussions with the insurer;
- Representing you during mediation;
- Handling all litigation and pretrial tasks, such as court appearances, motion hearings, discovery, and depositions; and,
- Supporting you during the trial through solid arguments and presentation of evidence and witnesses.
Our Florida Personal Injury Attorneys Will Seek All Available Compensation
This overview should help you understand when punitive damages are an option in Florida personal injury cases. However, it is critical to know whether they would apply to your specific circumstances. At Rosen Injury Law, P.A., our team is knowledgeable about the laws and will pursue all legal remedies in incidents that result from reckless or intentional misconduct. We are also experienced in the process of recovering punitives in accident claims. Please get in touch with us today to set up a consultation. After reviewing the facts of your case, a Florida personal injury lawyer will advise you on your rights and what to expect during the proceedings.