Thursday, May 11, 2017

What Are Punitive Damages, and When Are They Available?

In order to prove a case in chief for negligence, a personal injury plaintiff must prove damages. Specifically, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the injuries and damages that he or she sustained were directly and proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant or defendants. In some of the most serious and egregious personal injury cases, punitive damages may be available to compensate an injured plaintiff in addition to the usual economic and noneconomic damages.

If you have sustained personal injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence, then you may be entitled to monetary recovery under Florida law. A Florida personal injury lawyer may be able to assist you with obtaining monetary compensation, including punitive damages, against a responsible defendant or defendants.

Definition of Punitive Damages Under Florida Law

Under Florida law, in order to assert a claim for punitive damages, a personal injury plaintiff must first make a proffer that demonstrates a ‘reasonable basis’ for recovering the punitive damages in a particular case. In a nutshell, punitive damages are awarded to a personal injury plaintiff in order to punish the defendant and to discourage similar conduct by other tortfeasors in future similar cases.

Generally, punitive damages are available only in personal injury cases where gross negligence or acts of intentional misconduct were committed by the defendant. The Florida statutes define "intentional misconduct" as follows:

  • Situations where the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct involved; and 
  • Situations where the defendant, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued a certain course of misconduct, thereby resulting in serious injuries and damages to the personal injury plaintiff

Under most circumstances, punitive damages cannot exceed the greater of three times the amount of compensatory damages or the sum of $500,000.00.
In cases where punitive damages are available to a personal injury plaintiff, the plaintiff may be able to recover those damages in addition to other types of monetary damages, such as economic and noneconomic damages. In other words, when they are available, punitive damages are made a part of a personal injury plaintiff's total recovery in the case.

Other Types of Damages Available to Personal Injury Plaintiffs

In addition to punitive damages (when they are available), an attorney may be able to help a plaintiff recover both economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are those types of damages – such as compensation for medical bills, physical therapy bills, and lost wages – that may readily be calculated in terms of dollars and cents.

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are much more difficult to calculate because they cannot be measured exactly. Noneconomic damages compensate a personal injury plaintiff for pain and suffering and other intangibles. An experienced New Port Richey personal injury lawyer may also be able to assist personal injury plaintiffs with obtaining some or all of the following types of economic and noneconomic damages:

  • Compensation for all related medical and physical therapy bills and expenses
  • Compensation for all time missed from work and lost wages, including time missed from work for attending medical appointments and recovering from injuries sustained in an accident
  • Compensation for past, present, and future pain and suffering
  • Compensation for past, present, and future mental anguish
  • Compensation for causally related psychological or psychiatric treatment
  • Compensation for permanent injuries and impairment
  • Compensation for loss of earning capacity in cases of permanent impairment
  • Compensation for loss of companionship, consortium, and/or family support
  • Compensation for future medical care, including future medical procedures and surgeries
  • Wrongful death benefits, when applicable

The Benefits of Hiring a Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyer

In addition to gathering all necessary medical records and bills, litigating your personal injury case, and representing you at depositions and at trial, an experienced personal injury attorney may also be able to assist you with your case in some or all of the following ways:

  • Taking the necessary legal actions and making the necessary proffer to claim punitive damages in your personal injury case
  • Negotiating settlement offers with insurance adjusters and other insurance company representatives, helping you to maximize your monetary recovery in terms of both economic and noneconomic damages
  • Making recommendations about whether to accept a settlement offer or whether to go to trial
  • Exploring alternatives to trial, including alternative dispute resolution options, such as mediation and arbitration
  • Filing suit against all potential defendants within the proper time period (i.e. the statute of limitations), in order to maximize financial recovery in a personal injury case
  • Representing a personal injury plaintiff during litigation and up through mediation, arbitration, or jury trial

Contact Dolman Law Group Today to Discuss Your Case

Our personal injury lawyers will have the necessary legal skills and expertise to determine whether punitive damages and other types of recovery are applicable to your case. If so, your attorney can take the necessary legal actions to maximize your recovery and help you obtain the compensation you need and deserve.

You should always remember that, generally speaking, insurance companies and their adjusters  are not on your side. They are typically more interested in safeguarding their own money, limiting their own liability exposure, and ensuring that as little money as possible is paid out in satisfaction of your personal injury claim.

Insurance company adjusters typically offer very little settlement money at the onset of a personal injury case, and it is almost guaranteed that they will not consider the possibility of punitive damages right off the bat. In many cases, adjusters will not even put a decent settlement offer on the table until long after a lawsuit has been filed and discovery has been completed and exchanged by the parties to the case.

The skilled legal team at Dolman Law Group will have the necessary legal expertise to effectively negotiate with the insurance adjuster and help you obtain the monetary compensation and damages you are entitled to under the law. To schedule a free consultation or case evaluation with our personal injury lawyers, please call us at 727-451-6900 or contact us online.