Florida’s High Court Rejects Court-Imposed Cap on Wrongful Death Damages

In a recent Florida wrongful death case, the Florida Supreme Court reversed an intermediate appellate court’s decision that placed a limit on the amount of damages that a person could obtain through a wrongful death lawsuit.

The Facts

The specific facts of the case are less important than its holding. However, the case involved a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a plaintiff against a tobacco company. The plaintiff claimed that the tobacco company was responsible for her mother’s early death at the age of fifty-eight. The plaintiff was forty-two at the time of her mother’s death. There was extensive testimony regarding the closeness of the plaintiff’s relationship with her mother.

The case proceeded to trial, and the jury awarded the plaintiff $4.5 million in damages for the loss of her mother. The defendant tobacco company filed a motion with the court, asking it to reduce the damages amount, but the motion was denied. The tobacco company appealed.

On appeal, the intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision not to reduce the damages award holding that “no matter how strong the emotional bond between an adult child and a decedent parent may be, an adult child who lives independent of the parent during the parent’s smoking-related illness and death is not entitled to multi-million dollar compensatory damages award.” The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the intermediate appellate court’s analysis and held that the court should have been more deferential to the lower court’s decision not to reduce the damages award. The court began by explaining that both jury verdicts, as well as a trial court’s ruling on a motion to reduce the amount of a verdict, are entitled to “great deference” when being reviewed by an appellate court. The court reasoned that both the jury and the trial judge were able to assess the credibility of the witnesses and hear their testimony first-hand.

Here, the court explained that the intermediate court’s holding created a bright-line rule that limited the amount of damages wrongful death plaintiffs could obtain. This, the court held, was not supported by any statute or case, and thus, was an improper statement of the law. The court explained that when an appellate court reviews a lower court’s decision in a motion to increase or reduce a jury’s verdict, specific factors must be considered, including whether the verdict was such that it was the product of “passion or prejudice, corruption, partiality, improper influences, or the like.” Because the intermediate court did not engage in the proper analysis, and because the lower court provided a reasonable basis for its decision to deny the tobacco company’s motion to reduce the jury’s verdict, the court reinstated the jury’s verdict.

Have You Lost a Loved One?

If you have recently lost a loved one in a tragic accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Florida wrongful death lawsuit. The dedicated South Florida personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Frankl Kominsky have extensive experience handling a wide range of Florida wrongful death cases and know what it takes to succeed on their clients’ behalf. To learn more, call 561-708-5461 to schedule a free consultation today.

See Additional Blog Posts:

Florida Court Discusses “Open and Obvious” Doctrine in Recent Premises Liability Case, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, September 19, 2018.

Florida Court Dismisses Claim Due to Plaintiff’s Concealment of Previous Injury, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, July 18, 2018.