Punitive damages are a type of compensation an injured party can receive in a personal injury lawsuit. The damages do not compensate the plaintiff (injured party) for direct damages. Instead, a jury awards punitive damages as a punishment for the defendant (the person who caused the injury).
What Damages Can I Receive in a Personal Injury Claim?
Generally, an injured victim can recover compensatory damages under Florida tort laws. Compensatory damages reimburse the victim for economic damages or monetary losses. Examples of economic damages include:
- Out-of-pocket expenses and costs related to the accident and injury
- The cost of medical treatment and care, including physical therapy, rehabilitation, and nursing care
- Expenses related to household help and personal care
- Loss of income and benefits, including decreases in future earning capacity
In addition to recovering reimbursement for financial losses, injured victims can file claims for non-economic damages. These damages compensate the victim for the pain and suffering they experienced because of the accident and injury. They include:
- Physical suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Emotional distress
- Mental anguish
- Decrease in quality of life
- Impairments and disabilities
Jurors decide punitive damages on a case-by-case basis. First, the jury members must determine that the defendant’s actions met or exceeded the requirements for awarding punitive damages. Then, the jury determines the amount of punitive damages the defendant must pay the plaintiff.
When Can an Injured Party Receive Punitive Damages in a St. Petersburg Personal Injury Case?
Florida statutes define the conduct that justifies an award of punitive damages. Florida Torts Statute §768.72 says that punitive damages may be awarded if the defendant acted with gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The statutes define those terms as:
- Intentional Misconduct – A defendant intentionally proceeded to act in a manner that the defendant knew had a high chance of causing injury or damage, even though they understood their actions could harm someone.
- Gross Negligence – The defendant’s recklessness and complete lack of care amounted to a conscious disregard or indifference for the lives, safety, and rights of other individuals.
The statute requires the plaintiff to prove their case for punitive damages with clear and convincing evidence. This standard of proof is slightly higher than the proof required for compensatory damages.
“Clear and convincing” means that the evidence proves the allegations against the defendant are highly and substantially more likely to be true than false. The burden of proof for compensatory damages is by a preponderance of the evidence. There, you only need to establish that the evidence proves the allegations are more likely to be true than false.
Caps for Punitive Damages in Florida Personal Injury Claims
A cap limits the amount of money a jury can award for damages in an injury case. While some states place caps on compensatory damages, Florida does not, although it does cap the amount of punitive damages a plaintiff can receive in most cases.
For most injury claims, the plaintiff can receive three times the amount of the award for compensatory damages or $500,000. However, the cap does not apply in all cases.
The exceptions to the punitive damages cap in Florida include:
- There is no cap for punitive damages if the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the injury or accident.
- The punitive damage caps do not apply if the defendant intentionally acted to harm the plaintiff.
- The cap for punitive damages increases to $2 million if the defendant’s conduct was motivated solely by unreasonable financial gain.
- There is no cap for punitive damages in cases involving the abuse of a child, elderly person, or a person with developmental impairments.
An award for punitive damages can significantly increase how much a personal injury claim is worth. However, you must file a lawsuit to pursue a legal claim for punitive damages.
What Is the Deadline for Filing a Claim for Punitive Damages?
The claim for punitive damages is included in your personal injury lawsuit. The statute of limitations for most Florida personal injury claims is two years from the injury date. However, there are exceptions.
Historically, the Florida deadline was four years, but the state shortened its statute of limitations by law on March 24, 2023. Thus, if your Florida accident occurred after 3/24/23, you must file a lawsuit within two years — not four.
If you miss the filing deadline for a personal injury lawsuit, you lose the right to take your case to court. Seeking legal advice from a St. Petersburg injury lawyer as soon as possible after an injury or accident helps protect your legal rights.
Contact Our Office for a Free Consultation With a St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer
Punitive damages are only paid in a few personal injury cases. Our legal team carefully analyzes your case to determine if these damages are justified in your case.
We pursue all damages allowed by law to maximize the recovery in your case. Call our law firm for a free consultation at (727) 933-0015 to discuss your case with an experienced St. Petersburg injury lawyer at Lopez Law Group Accident Injury Attorneys.