Understanding Punitive Damages in Florida

When you are injured due to someone’s negligence or careless actions, you have the right to pursue legal action against the at-fault party’s insurance company to recover your accident-related losses. In most cases, damages are either economic (e.g., medical expenses or lost wages) or non-economic (e.g., pain and suffering or disability). Similar damages also exist in wrongful death cases in Florida.

However, there is another type of damage that you may be eligible to claim: punitive damages. Punitive damages are not calculable like economic and non-economic damages. In other words, the court decides whether to award these damages and how much to award you. In addition, punitive damages aren’t necessarily related to your losses. Instead, they are awarded based on the actions or intent of the at-fault party.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are compensation that the at-fault party is required to pay you, but only if your attorney can prove that the party’s harmful actions were reckless or intentional. While punitive damages may be awarded if compensatory damages are insufficient, the damages may also be the court’s way of punishing the at-fault party or using them as a public example.

Punitive damages go beyond compensating the aggrieved party and are specifically designed to punish defendants whose conduct is considered grossly negligent or intentional. They are also called exemplary damages when they are intended to set an example to deter others from committing similar acts.

Some examples of punitive damages include:

  • A drunk driver kills a loved one in a car accident.
  • A car manufacturer knowingly sells a vehicle with a defect.
  • A store owner ignores numerous complaints about a damaged stairway and the damage, subsequently, causes an accident.
  • A motorist cuts off another motorist in an act of road rage, leading to a crash.

How Are Punitive Damages Different from Compensatory Damages?

As a plaintiff, you may feel that you deserve certain damages for the harm that someone has caused you, and you may be right. However, you need to understand the difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages and what they are based on.

These are the main differences to remember:

Compensatory Damages

The word “compensatory” implies that the at-fault party is compensating you for expenses, financial losses or personal losses as a result of the accident. There is a direct link between your loss and compensation.

Punitive Damages

The word “punitive” implies that the court is punishing the at-fault party or using them as an example. There is a direct link between the party’s behavior and the court’s action. There may or may not be a direct link between your loss and the compensation you receive.

For instance, you may win your initial case in court and receive the compensation you requested on your accident claim. However, because the at-fault party’s actions were either intentional or reckless, the court may award you an additional sum to make an example of the party.

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How Much Can I Receive in Punitive Damages?

The state of Florida puts limits on punitive damages by using two rules of thumb:

  • The statute allows up to three times more for punitive damages than the amount for compensatory damages.
  • The statute limits punitive damages to no more than $500,000.

So, you may only receive up to $500,000 in punitive damages, unless the damages are three times the amount of the compensatory damages. There is an exception to that statute: If the defendant’s intentional actions were for the purpose of financial gain, then the punitive damages could be as high as four times the compensatory damages or two million dollars, whichever amount is higher.

Note: Punitive damages are calculated and awarded by the court, not the attorney. Your lawyer can make recommendations. However, the court has the final say as to whether you will receive punitive damages or the amount you will receive.

Hire Thomas J. Ueberschaer, P.A., to Represent You Today

When you are ready to move forward with your workers’ compensation case, we are here to help, every step of the way. Thomas J. Ueberschaer, P.A., provides comprehensive legal services for victims of workplace accidents in Florida. Contact us today to get started with your claim.

We will answer your questions, address your concerns and work on your behalf to take on the insurance companies. To schedule a free case evaluation, call us at 850-434-8778.