When Are Punitive Damages Allowed in Personal Injury Cases?
Suffering an injury as a result of the actions or inactions of another individual is a frustrating experience. Any injury requires a physical recovery and rehabilitation period, which necessarily involves a cost. Unfortunately, this expense, at least initially, must be borne by the injured individual, and if he/she does not have adequate medical insurance, the costs can be overwhelming depending on the injury. However, recovering reimbursement for injuries is possible, and retaining the services of an experienced Miami personal injury attorney is essential for recovering the most compensation possible. One issue that an experienced attorney will address is whether to make a claim for punitive damages. These damages, which are intended to punish the wrongdoer, are not always rewarded, even if a clear claim of negligence is established. Nevertheless, in some instances, the wrongdoer’s actions are so egregious, as this case illustrates, claims for punitive damages may be allowed. A discussion of punitive damages, in general, as well as when they may be allowed in personal injury matters, will follow below.
As alluded to above, punitive damages are assessed to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct and/or to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct. Additionally, punitive damages may be awarded if the compensatory damages are deemed to be inadequate. In Florida, to ensure that punitive damages are not awarded indiscriminately, the legal standard is that an award must be based on clear and convincing evidence. Speaking to an experienced attorney can assist in determining whether the defendant’s actions rise to this level.
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages. Compensatory damages involve a damage amount meant to compensate the plaintiff for the direct repercussions of his/her injury. Thus, costs incurred by the plaintiff for medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and the like are compensatory damages.
When are Punitive Damages Possible
As cited above, Florida does allow for punitive damages to be awarded. However, Florida allows these damages only in certain circumstances. To receive punitive damages, an injured plaintiff must be able to prove one of the following:
- Intentional misconduct. In other words, that the defendant knew that his/her conduct was wrong or that an individual could get hurt, but he/she acted anyway, and that their act was a direct cause of the injury or damage.
- Gross negligence. Even in situations in which the defendant did not mean to hurt anyone, punitive damages may still be available if the defendant’s conduct is proven to be extremely careless or reckless, by having a disregard or indifference to the lives, safety, or rights of other individuals.
Limitations on Punitive Damages
Like most states that allow punitive damages, Florida limits the amount of the damages, in most personal injury matters, to the larger of:
- $500,000; or
- Three times the amount of compensatory damages.
In serious personal injury matters, such as those that involve wrongdoing purely for financial gain, a court can award damages to the larger of:
- $2 million; or
- Four times the amount of compensatory damages.
Seek Legal Advice
If you have suffered an injury as a result of the actions of another individual, and have questions surrounding what reimbursement you can receive, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Pita Weber & Del Prado as soon as possible. The attorneys at our office have many years of experience in personal injury matters, including how the issue of punitive damages can affect strategy. After analyzing your injury, if we believe that you may be able to obtain reimbursement from another party, we will develop a strategy to get you the most compensation possible. Contact our Miami office today for an initial consultation.