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What Are Punitive Damages?


The civil law system exists to make victims “whole.” This means that the courts try to put you in the position you would be in had your accident never occurred. For this reason, you can receive compensation for any amount of money you lost as a result of the accident. However, Florida also allows personal injury victims to receive punitive damages when the defendant’s conduct is particularly egregious.

The Purpose of Punitive Damages 

In Florida, you can receive compensation for economic injuries such as lost wages, money spent on medical treatment, and any damage to your property. You can also receive compensation for non-economic harms like physical pain or emotional distress. Money really can’t make you “whole” when it comes to these non-economic harms, but it is the best a court can do.

Punitive damages serve a different purpose. They aren’t intended to make you whole. Instead, they are designed to punish the defendant and to deter him from engaging in this conduct again. If you qualify for punitive damages, you can receive them on top of your economic and non-economic damages.

Egregious Conduct 

You cannot receive punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was merely careless. For example, a grocery store’s failure to quickly wipe up a liquid spill in an aisle probably does not qualify as sufficiently serious, even if you slip on it and injure yourself. Instead, you must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.

Intentional misconduct is the easiest to understand. It covers things like intentionally striking you or intentionally not doing something they have agreed to do. The defendant knew their conduct was wrong and that injury would result, but they went ahead anyway and pursued this wrongful course of conduct.

Gross negligence is a little murkier, existing on a spectrum with simple negligence. However, Florida law defines gross negligence as reckless conduct or conduct so lacking in care that it exhibits an indifference or conscious disregard for your life or safety.

Punitive Damages Caps 

Responding to concerns that juries were levying huge punitive damage awards against defendants, Florida’s legislature put caps on the amount of punitive damages plaintiffs can receive. The scheme is complex and depends on the defendant’s motivation when they harmed you:

  • Generally, punitive damages cannot exceed $500,000 or three times the amount of your compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
  • When the defendant was motivated solely by financial gain and knew that their conduct was unreasonably dangerous, then punitive damages are capped at $2 million or four times your compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
  • There is no punitive damages cap when the defendant acted with a specific intent to harm you.

Injured in an Accident? Speak with a Personal Injury Lawyer in Delray Beach, Florida 

At Earnhart Law, we are committed to helping clients get back on their feet after a devastating injury. If you or a loved one has been injured by intentional or reckless conduct, then you might be entitled to punitive damages. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 561-265-2220.



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