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Understanding Florida’s Punitive Damages Laws

Damages take on a different meaning within the law than in the civilian world. In a legal sense, damages generally refers to the economic or monetary losses a plaintiff has incurred because of how a defendant acted. And within the law there are different kinds of damages. For example, there are:

  • Actual damages – the to-the-penny losses a plaintiff has actually suffered.
  • Future damages – the damages that will continue to accrue because of what happened. These kinds of damages are common in personal injury cases because the consequences of a personal injury can be long lasting and extend well into the future.
  • Pain and suffering – just like it sounds, these damages try to compensate the victim for how the accident or injury has made them feel, and the non-economic impact it has had on their life.

There are other types of damages as well, but this article will explain a very important class of damages: punitive damages.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed as a punishment. And that is what punitive damages tries to do – punish the wrongdoer in a case for how he or she acted. Beyond seeking to punish a wrongdoer, the application of punitive damages in a case seeks to prevent future misconduct by sending a warning to other people and companies that if they act similarly, they could face steep and heavy financial consequences. One example of this was a case involving the tobacco industry. In a 2000 Florida personal injury case against the tobacco industry, several Florida plaintiffs successfully received a punitive damages verdict for $145 billion. The jury in that case felt that the industry had acted so badly, that they deserved to punished for over a hundred billion dollars. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the verdict, but the number and lesson remain the same.

Elements to Florida Punitive Damages

As we discussed above, punitive damages are not necessarily attached to every case brought before a jury. In a simple car accident case, for example, a negligent driver who simply made a mistake of braking too late will not likely face punitive damages for his conduct. For a plaintiff to successfully win a punitive damages case he or she must show that the defendant acted with one of two things: intentional misconduct or gross negligence.

Intentional misconduct is fairly self explanatory when it comes to punitive damages. To establish it, a victim must show that in addition to causing the victim harm due to their misconduct, the defendant knew that their actions were wrong, and knew the actions would cause harm. Often times we see this kind of case in corporate cover-up schemes where the company knew that their product was bad for the public, but in order to make money they sold it anyways and it hurt people as a result.

Gross negligence is another way that a plaintiff can establish punitive damages. In a gross negligence case, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant’s actions were so wanton and reckless that it is equivalent to know that the actions were wrong and that it would cause harm to the defendant. These types of cases are common where it is difficult to provide a smoking gun, but where the acts speak for themselves and should be punished.

Reach Out to an Attorney in Miami

Everyday in the Miami area people are hurt because of the mindless acts of others. Whether it is distracted driving, simple negligence, or a corporate cover-up, the attorneys at Alan Goldfarb P.A. are ready to fight for the victims of those incidents. We have a practice dedicated to recovering damages suffered by victims in Miami-area personal injury cases.

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