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How Far Can I Go With Punitive Damages?

Sometimes the unthinkable happens, and a terrible incident, possibly even involving death, can occur through no fault of your own. When you are victimized by an incredible injury or tragic loss of life, that is a traumatic enough experience as it is. But if it comes out that the loss could have been easily prevented had someone else been more responsible—or in some cases, less malicious—then simply going to court to sue for negligence may not be enough. In such cases, a person may want something more extreme, and in the eyes of the law, that extreme response is known as punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

As the name implies, punitive damages are a specific form of lawsuit that go above and beyond just trying to get the financial compensation you may be due, and is instead focused on financially “punishing” the responsible party with an extreme amount of money. It is intended to make the offending party an “object lesson” and send a message to others about the consequences of irresponsible action.

In other words, punitive damages are a form of legalized, financial “revenge,” and it’s not something that can be entered into lightly. Punitive damages are only going to be suggested and pursued by a personal injury lawyer if your lawyer believes the negligence involved in the incident was so severe, or perhaps even deliberate, that it created conscious regard or indifference for safety.

But even if you decide to sue for punitive damages, Florida law has limits.

The Cap

In the state of Florida, punitive damages have two tiers. The first is for three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000. This is to prevent people from attempting to sue for tens of millions of dollars, and discourage people from attempting to sue for punitive damages as a form of profit.

However, if the case for negligence and the state of the injuries involved is so severe that it’s likely the need for financial gain came at the cost of accepting great injury or even loss of life, punitive damages can move “up” to the next tier. At this final tier, up to four times the compensatory damage can be sought, or up to $2 million in punitive damages.

Special Circumstances

There are a few instances where, even if you feel punitive damages are appropriate, they may not be viable. If the party that is being sued for negligence has already been involved in a court case where punitive damages where used, that usually means another punitive damage suit cannot go forward. There is an exception to this, however, if the court feels that the previous punitive damages weren’t sufficient to punish the offending party, in which case, it may be possible to move forward.

Punitive damages are a very serious legal maneuver, and you should always consult with a personal injury lawyer or accident lawyer to see whether or not this is an option open to you. If you feel you have been victimized by extraordinarily deliberate negligence, you may be right about pursuing punitive damages.