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Florida Appeals Court Addresses Non-Economic and Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a wrongful death lawsuit against a power company. The lawsuit arose after the tragic death of a teenager who was climbing bamboo in a neighbor’s backyard. The bamboo stalk bent over into a power line, causing the young man’s electrocution and death. His mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the power company that owned and monitored the power line. The woman alleged that her son’s death was the result of the company’s negligence. She claimed that the company created a dangerous hazard because it knew of the fast-growing bamboo near the power line and failed to clear it. The trial jury awarded the woman $12.5 million in non-economic damages and $15 million in punitive damages. The power company appealed the damages award.

Florida injury victims are entitled to compensation if they suffer injuries because of another’s negligence. There are two main types of damages that Florida plaintiffs may claim in their lawsuit, compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are tangible monetary losses that a plaintiff or their representative has incurred or may face in the future. Typically, these damages are easy to prove because they include quantifiable losses, including medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages are intangible losses that a Florida injury victim or their family suffered because of the other party’s negligence. Non-economic damages are losses such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Although most states have various damage caps on negligence lawsuits, there is no cap on economic or non-economic damages in Florida.

Punitive damages are a unique form of compensation that are designed to punish and deter the defendant from future negligent behavior. Punitive damages are available under very narrow circumstances and subject to a damages cap in certain situations. Generally, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant acted recklessly and maliciously. These damages may be available when the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff. In these situations, there is no limitation on the number of punitive damages that a plaintiff may receive.

Plaintiffs may also be entitled to punitive damages when the defendant did not act intentionally but ignored an unreasonable danger based on financial motivation. In these cases, damages are limited to $2 million or four times the compensatory damage award. In most other punitive damage claims, the plaintiff can only receive three times their compensatory damage award or $500,000.

The case above addresses a unique situation where the defendant is a Florida corporation. Under Florida laws, corporations can only be liable for punitive damages when their behavior was “so reckless or wanting in care” that it amounts to a “conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights” of the injury victim. Further, the plaintiff must show “willful and malicious action.” Moreover, the plaintiff must be able to show that the person responsible was a “managing agent.” In this case, the plaintiff could not establish that the person responsible for supervising the area was a “managing agent.” Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the non-economic damages but reversed the punitive damage award.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of the Negligence of a Florida Corporation?

If you or someone you know suffered injuries or died because of the negligence of another person or corporation, you should contact the dedicated Florida wrongful death attorneys at the Law Office of Robert Dixon. Our attorneys have extensive experience handling the unique challenges that these types of personal injury lawsuits pose. We have the dedication and skill necessary to overcome the barriers that defendants often raise to avoid liability. Contact our office at 1-877-499-4878 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney on our team.