When someone is injured in a Florida accident, the state’s law allows them to file a civil suit against the responsible party. If successful, plaintiffs may be able to recover monetary compensation to cover lost wages, pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, loss of consortium, and even funeral and burial expenses. This compensation is called compensatory damages. In some cases, plaintiffs can also file for what is called punitive damages. In contrast to compensatory, Florida punitive damages focus on punishing the defendant, rather than making the plaintiff whole.
Punitive damages are only available in a small percentage of cases, where the conduct of the defendant was particularly egregious. But when they are awarded, they can be set as high as $500,000. Thus, when they are sued, it is in the defendant’s best interest to ensure that the plaintiff does not seek punitive damages. Generally, Florida has two situations in which plaintiffs can receive punitive damages—when the plaintiff can prove either intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Intentional misconduct occurs when someone knows that their conduct was dangerous and could injure someone but did it anyway. Gross negligence occurs when someone, indifferent to the life and safety of others, acts extremely recklessly or carelessly.
Plaintiffs may sometimes want to amend their complaint to seek punitive damages after it has already been filed. Section 768.72(1) of the Florida Statutes does allow plaintiffs to do just that in cases where “there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.” Whether or not a trial court grants this amendment is very important to a case; the Florida Supreme Court held 25 years ago that appellate courts cannot review a lower court’s decision to allow an amendment to a suit to include punitive damages so long as the judge follows proper procedures.