When Are Punitive Damages Permitted?

Many people have heard the term punitive damages, as they are discussed frequently in highly publicized cases. But most people and clients are unaware that Florida has its own statute that addresses when and how punitive damages claims are permitted.

Punitive damages in general are intended to reform or deter the defendant, and others, from engaging in similar conduct to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit. Florida Statute 768.72 governs punitive damages and actually provides strict limitations on a Plaintiff’s ability to bring a claim for punitive damages.

F.S. 768.72 provides that:

In any civil action, no claim for punitive damages shall be permitted unless 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.

Section (2) of F.S. 768.72 requires that in order to be held liable for punitive damages the trier of fact must find that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Intentional misconduct is defined by the statute as:

“Intentional misconduct” means that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage to the claimant would result and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage. (b) “Gross negligence” means that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.

In short, punitive damages in Florida are permitted in personal injury, and other, cases. However, there are procedural and legal requirements that must be met, which include establishing by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was either personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.