For example, in a recent discrimination case, AutoZone was ordered to pay $185 million in punitive damages to a pregnant manager who was demoted and then fired, presumably because she was pregnant.
These cases get a lot of attention because they involve such a large amount of money, but not every case is like the AutoZone case, and punitive damages are actually relatively rare.
What Are Punitive Damages?
In personal injury cases, monetary damages are awarded as a means to make the victim “whole” again. That is, damages will usually cover things like medical bills and lost wages.
They may also provide an amount for your pain and suffering and other difficult to quantify damages. All of these are in an effort to compensate the victim for their losses.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are much more focused on the defendant than the plaintiff or the victim. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer and to deter future bad conduct.
Where you see punitive damage amounts that are extremely high, you are likely dealing with a wrongdoer that is a business or a very wealthy individual. This is because in order for punitive damages to work as intended, they must actually have an impact on the wrongdoer.
For example, a fine of $500,000 is a very small amount of money for a Fortune 500 company that makes millions or billions in profits every year.
Punitive Damages in Florida
Some states do not allow awards for punitive damages. Florida, however, does permit these awards in certain circumstances. You must be able to prove one of the following:
- Intentional misconduct occurred. This means that the defendant knew that their conduct was wrong or that someone would get hurt, but they did the act anyway. That action then caused injury or damage.
- Gross negligence occurred.In cases where the defendant did not mean to hurt anyone, punitive damages can still be available where the defendant’s conduct was extremely careless or reckless. This type of recklessness amounts to a disregard or indifference to lives, safety, or rights of other people.
In situations that involve businesses, punitive damages can sometimes be imposed if you can prove that an employee was acting on behalf of the business and either engaged in intentional misconduct or was grossly negligent.
The business owners or other directors must have somehow approved of the conduct for it to warrant an award for punitive damages against the business.
Limitations on Punitive Damages in Florida
Punitive damages are controversial and are completely unavailable in some states. In Florida, like other states, there are punitive damage caps in some cases. For example, in most personal injury cases, Florida limits the amount of punitive damages to the greater of:
- $500,000 or
- Three times the amount of compensatory damages (like lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering awards)
In serious cases that involve wrongdoing purely for financial gain even when they were likely to result in injury, the court can award up to the greater of:
- $2 million or
- Four times the amount of compensatory damages
There are some limitations to this type of award as well.
Juries are not allowed to know about any of these limitations when making a decision about punitive damages. In this way, they are not limited by the law and can share what they think the award should be with the court.
Meet with an Personal Injury Attorney for a punitive injury case
Speak with an experienced Florida personal injury attorney for specific information regarding punitive damages. A seasoned personal injury or wrongful death attorney will be able to examine your case and determine if punitive damages might be appropriate based on your unique situation. They will be able to help you compile and present the evidence that you need to prove punitive damages if they are suitable for your case.