Punitive Damages

In a personal injury claim (and certain other types of claims), damages are an amount of money you can demand from the defendant if you win your claim. Punitive damages are a special class of damages that courts only occasionally award. 

Even if you believe you deserve punitive damages, you’re likely to need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to successfully claim them.  

Contrast: Compensatory Damages

Contrast: Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages reimburse you for losses you sustain when someone harms you through some sort of actionable misconduct, such as negligence (carelessness). Florida law recognizes two broad categories of compensatory damages–economic damages and non-economic damages:

  • Economic damages are any easy-to-count losses, such as medical expenses, lost earnings (from missing work), out-of-pocket expenses, and more.
  • Non-economic damages: Intangible losses such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more.

Non-economic damages typically add up to more than economic damages.

The Purpose of Punitive Damages

Since punitive damages are distinct from compensatory damages, their purpose is not to compensate you for your losses. Instead, their purpose is to punish the party who harmed you. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Specific deterrence: To deter the perpetrator from repeating their outrageous conduct.
  • General deterrence: To deter other people from imitating the defendant’s outrageous behavior by demonstrating that the costs for doing so are simply too high to make it worth any potential gain.

Even though punitive damages are designed for punishment rather than compensation, when courts award punitive damages, these damages go to the victim, not the state.  

Employer’s Vicarious Liability

You can demand compensatory damages from an employer for their employee’s misconduct if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment when they committed their wrongful behavior. 

Because of these purposes, you can demand compensatory damages, but not punitive damages, from an employer for their employee’s outrageous misconduct. To collect punitive damages, you must seek them from the employee or the employee’s insurance policy (assuming that the insurance policy covers punitive damages).

Conditions for the Award of Punitive Damages

To qualify for punitive damages, you must meet the following conditions:

  • You must demand punitive damages in your initial complaint, or you must amend your complaint later to reflect this demand. A deadline applies to amending your complaint, and so do procedural requirements.
  • You must show that the perpetrator\s misconduct must have amounted to gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
  • You must prove the perpetrator’s liability for punitive damages by “clear and convincing evidence.” 

“Clear and convincing evidence” is an intermediate standard of proof. It requires more convincing evidence than the “preponderance of the evidence (‘more likely than not’) standard that you need to qualify for compensatory damages, but less convincing evidence than you need to establish “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal prosecution.  

Punitive Damages Amounts

When calculating the amount of punitive damages, a court will consider the following factors: 

  • The nature and extent of the harm that the victim suffered. A permanent disability, for example, will typically justify a greater award of punitive damages than a temporary disability.
  • The degree of the defendant’s culpability. For example, intentional misconduct that amounts to a crime will typically justify a greater punitive damages award than gross negligence (an intentional road rage car accident vs. drunken driving, for instance). 
  • The defendant’s financial resources. The more money the defendant has, the higher the likely award of punitive damages. One of the reasons for this is that since punitive damages are about deterrence, it’s important to assess damages that are high enough to deter the perpetrator. 

A court might consider other factors as well.

Statutory Limits on the Amount of Punitive Damages

Florida imposes statutory limits on the total amount of punitive damages. The primary limitation is the greater of 3x the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. Other limits apply to certain cases as well.

Judicial Reluctance To Award Punitive Damages

Courts are reluctant to award punitive damages. They usually refuse to award punitive damages even when the victim wins compensatory damages. In some cases, such as an extreme intentional injury, an award of punitive damages is not particularly unlikely.

Punitive Damages in Settlement Negotiations

It is almost impossible to negotiate punitive damages because perpetrators almost never agree to pay them. If you want punitive damages, you will have to go to trial.

Contact an Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer for Help Handling Your Claim

Orlando, Florida, is a wonderful place to visit. Unfortunately, however, it is not exempt from human nature or the laws of physics. That means accidents happen here just as often as they do anywhere else. 

If you suffer a personal injury that you believe may be of substantial value, contact the experienced lawyers at Norden Leacox Accident & Injury Law right away, we have attorneys in different cities throughout Florida, such as Palm Bay, Cocoa, Titusville, and Melbourne Personal Injury Attorneys. Your compensation could be significant, whether or not you win punitive damages, call us today at (407)-801-3000.