Punitive damages are a common occurrence in personal injury cases. Punitive damages are designed to punish or deter a defendant from engaging in intentional misconduct. As addressed in past blog posts, Florida requires a showing of gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct on a party in order to maintain a successful punitive claim. Specific intent is not required, rather only that the defendant was unusually careless and was in complete disregard for the possible gross and flagrant injurious consequences which may result from the wrongful conduct.
Most people only analyze this punitive exposure to the direct defendant themselves, especially in car accident cases where the driver is the main focus of the accident. However, in a case from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal punitive damages as to other defendants was addressed. See Trevino v. Mobley, 63 So.3d 865 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011).
In the Trevino case, the 5th DCA helped confirm that punitive damages can be sought against another defendant under a Negligent Entrustment claim. The Trevino case involved a fatal accident in which a 20 year old was killed when she was struck head on. Her estate brought claims against the other driver and his parents, who owned the vehicle. The estate brought a claim for negligent entrustment against the other driver’s parents given that they knew their child was a reckless driver.
Before the jury returned a $15 million award for compensatory and punitive damages the trial judge issued a directed verdict in favor of the defendants finding that a verdict on negligent entrustment would essentially be a redundant claim to a permissive use claim that has damages caps under Florida law. On appeal, the 5th District reversed the trial court and held that Florida Statutes “limits a vehicle owner’s exposure for vicarious liability, but it does not apply to limit the owner’s direct liability for his or her own negligence.” Under Florida Statute 324.021 (9)(b)3, negligent entrustment is not a concurrent theory of liability, and would thus would not be subject to statutory caps applicable to ownership liability.
Thus, negligent entrustment claims can cause compensatory and punitive exposure to a vehicle owner’s liable for damages as a result of their own independent negligence for entrusting their vehicle to another.