What are Punitive Damages? 

 January 26, 2015

By  LMW Attorneys

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are those meant to punish a defendant when his or her actions are considered especially harmful. These damages exceed the amount necessary to compensate for the injured party’s losses, or the compensatory damages. They are awarded in civil lawsuits in the nature of a criminal fine.

Why are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Punitive damages are awarded when they are believed to work in the best interest of society and the individual harmed. While the basic purpose of a civil lawsuit is to get the plaintiff back to where he or she was before an accident, punitive damages serve additional purposes.

A plaintiff receives compensation for his or her losses, such as pay for lost work time, the cost of repairing a car, or reimbursement for medical expenses through compensatory damages. However, when a defendant’s conduct is considered especially harmful, punitive damages may be awarded on top of compensatory damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish wrongdoers for misconduct and encourage them to not commit or repeat a similar act. They are also seen as means of retribution for a plaintiff injured by a defendant’s reckless or outrageous behavior.

How are Punitive Damages Determined?

Behavior warranting punitive damages can typically be characterized by terms like bad faith, fraud, malice, oppression, outrageous, violent, wanton, wicked, and reckless. Generally, it is determined in these situations that the defendant has acted intentionally, maliciously, or with utter disregard for the rights and interests of their victim.

Although punitive damages are awarded in the interest of society, the money goes to the plaintiff alone. In some cases, a plaintiff can end up in a much better financial position after being awarded punitive damages than they were before an accident. For this reason, punitive damages are considered controversial and the process of awarding them varies by state.

Punitive Damages in Florida

Florida statute states that no claim for punitive damages is permitted unless there is evidence that provides a “reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.” In Florida, awarding punitive damages is a two-step process. First, a hearing is held before the trial court to determine if sufficient evidence exists to present a claim for punitive damages.

This step, called the evidentiary hearing, is considered highly important because a defendant can only be held liable for punitive damages if evidence of intentional misconduct or gross negligence is determined at this point. If it is determined that such evidence exists, the plaintiff must then demonstrate to a jury that punitive damages should be awarded.

When to Involve a Lawyer

Whether you are seeking punitive damages from an accident or you find yourself facing criminal fines, it is best to involve a lawyer from the very beginning. If you are in an accident, call LMW Attorneys right away for a free consultation. The sooner we can begin presenting witnesses and evidence showing your side of the story, the better chances you will have of a positive outcome.