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What Are Punitive Damages?

You can seek compensation for different types of damages after an accident. The damages in a personal injury case can range from medical costs to pain and suffering.

In some personal injury cases, the injury victim might receive damages that are not intended to compensate them for their losses. These damages are referred to as punitive damages.

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

Compensatory damages are the most common type of damages awarded in personal injury cases. These damages compensate the injured party for losses. 

Losses in a personal injury case include:

  • Medical bills
  • Cost of personal care
  • Long-term nursing care
  • Lost wages, benefits, and other income
  • Reductions in future earning potential
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Mental anguish and trauma
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Disabilities, impairments, and disfigurement
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses and financial losses

The above damages represent financial losses or pain and suffering experienced by the injured party. In either case, the compensation is intended to reimburse the victim for an actual loss. 

Punitive damages do not compensate the accident victim for a loss. Punitive damages relate to the defendant’s conduct instead of the victim’s losses.

The Purpose of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages serve a few important purposes. The first purpose is to punish the defendant for egregious behavior. For example, suppose a surgeon is rushing to finish a procedure and fails to read a patient’s chart. Because the surgeon is in a hurry, they amputate the wrong limb on the patient. The award of punitive damages would punish the surgeon for their disregard of the safety and wellbeing of the patient. 

The second purpose of punitive damages is to deter the defendant from repeating similar behavior in the future. Because the surgeon had to pay additional damages, they would not likely repeat the same conduct.

The final purpose of punitive damages is to deter other parties from committing similar behavior. For example, the award of punitive damages in a medical malpractice case warns other surgeons about the risks of misconduct.

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in Florida?

Punitive damages are only awarded in a few cases. The defendant’s conduct must rise to a certain level to justify the award of punitive damages. Florida law requires that the plaintiff prove that the defendant is guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. 

Intentional misconduct means that the defendant continued with a course of action, even though they knew their conduct could cause injury. Gross negligence is conduct that displays a conscious indifference or disregard for the safety of another person. 

There must be “clear and convincing” evidence of the defendant’s intentional misconduct or gross negligence for punitive damages to be awarded.

Punitive damages may be awarded in any personal injury case, including:

However, the case law governing punitive damages can be complicated. Both state and federal law might impact an award for punitive damages. 

The United States Supreme Court has issued opinions ensuring that punitive damages are not awarded without merit. Additionally, the number of punitive damages should not be grossly excessive. 

Does Florida Have a Cap on Punitive Damage Awards?

The Florida legislature has capped the number of punitive damages that a jury may award in a personal injury case. Florida’s cap on punitive damage awards is three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000.

However, there are exceptions to the caps on punitive damage awards. For example, a jury may award up to four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2 million if the defendant’s conduct was motivated by unreasonable financial gain.

If the case involves abuse of a person with disabilities, elder abuse, or child abuse, the cap on punitive damages might not apply. Also, if the defendant was drunk when the injury occurred or specifically intended to harm the plaintiff, punitive damages caps might not apply.

Contact Our Florida Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation 

Our personal injury attorneys at Shaked Law Firm are ready to help you seek the maximum compensation available for your damages. If a defendant’s conduct meets the requirements for punitive damages, our legal team pursues these damages to maximize your recovery. 

Please contact our law firm in Miami by calling us at (305) 937-0191 to schedule your free case review with one of our injury lawyers.