When Can I Recover Punitive Damages in a Florida Personal Injury Case?

If you are not familiar with punitive damages, consider the following scenario. You have been injured as a result of a business cutting corners. You were in the restroom at your neighborhood grocery store when you slipped on a floor that was practically underwater. During a deposition in your lawsuit against the store, the manager lets it slip that this exact scenario had occurred multiple times before, but the store never did anything to change its protocol for cleaning its restrooms. Instead, store managers had been instructed as a part of a new company policy to try to keep costs down by cleaning the store, including the restrooms, less frequently, regardless of whether there were any injuries to customers or employees as a result. As company policy, most injury claims are quickly settled with strict confidentiality requirements to ensure no one ever finds out about the situation. The manager further testifies that his store has cut its cleaning costs by 10% annually but that yours is the third claim or lawsuit his particular store has faced involving injuries suffered as a result of this new company cost-cutting policy. Nevertheless, in his testimony, the store manager revealed that both he and his supervisor have incentive bonuses that are tied entirely to keeping costs as low as possible, so they have to do what they can to conform to company policy, even if people are injured as a result.

People who have been injured are understandably angry in such a scenario. The business at which you were injured knew about the potential dangers of cutting corners in exactly the way that it did, yet it nevertheless failed to do anything to rectify the situation. To make things worse, this had happened to two other people at this store before your own incident and utterly nothing was done to prevent future accidents. Instead, the business knew full well that people were being injured as a result of its efforts to save money; yet, it nevertheless continued to maintain this same policy despite the fact that it was endangering its customers.

Clients sometimes ask us if there are instances in which they can recover damages for particularly egregious behavior by an individual or business that endangers others that may have led to their injuries. In certain limited circumstances under Florida law, punitive damages can be available in a personal injury lawsuit.  Even being allowed to seek punitive damages in a Florida personal injury case is something that requires permission from the judge, however.  Actually being able to recover them requires meeting an even higher bar. Therefore, although they are rarely present in a case, in the right case punitive damages can be a powerful means to obtain maximum compensation for your injuries suffered because of someone else’s negligence.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are a special category of damages that juries in Florida are sometimes called upon to award in scenarios like that presented above where the circumstances under which someone was injured were particularly egregious. Punitive damages are, much like their name suggests, meant to either punish a particular defendant (thus the term punitive) or to deter future wrongdoing by that defendant or other parties.  Thus, in the scenario above, if the injured person is permitted to pursue punitive damages against the business, it would be to punish that business for pursuing its cost-cutting policy in the face of multiple incidents where store patrons were injured.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Sought in A Personal Injury Action in Florida?

Seeking punitive damages in a personal injury case in Florida is a two-step process.  First, an injured party that wants to pursue a punitive damages claim must file a motion, and a judge must determine whether there is a reasonable evidentiary basis to allow an injured party to pursue punitive damages. To prevail on such a motion, a party has to proffer (or essentially summarize) what evidence there is to show a reasonable basis for the recovery of punitive damages.

When it comes to an actual trial, a party asserting a punitive damages claim must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of its conduct and the high probability that injury or damage would result from that conduct. In the scenario above, there had been two prior instances of this exact scenario occurring, and it did not begin occurring until a change in corporate policy that had as its sole focus to cut costs at the expense of customer safety. Taking tthese factors into consideration, a jury very well may conclude the company acted in such a manner.

What Difference Can the Presence of a Punitive Damages Claim Mean In A Case?

Once punitive damages are present in a case, it can change the case and increase its settlement value significantly.  One reason for this is that punitive damages typically are not covered by insurance policies, so they are coming directly out of the pocket of the defendant. In addition, there are no caps on the amount that a jury can award in punitive damages under Florida law (although the amount that a jury awards in punitive damages cannot be wildly out of proportion to whatever it awards in compensatory and non-economic damages).

Contact Schwed, Adams and McGinley

At Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A., our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of combined legal practice representing victims of numerous types of personal injury scenarios in Florida. We have successfully obtained the court’s permission to pursue punitive damages for our clients many times before, increasing the amount of compensation we were ultimately able to recover for our clients. In addition, we have taken cases to trial and obtained actual punitive damages awards against businesses, persons, or others whose actions were particularly egregious. Therefore, if you, a family member, or a loved one have been injured or killed by someone else’s negligence, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A today at 877-694-6079 or contact@schwedlawfirm.com for a free consultation.