Understanding Punitive Damages in Florida DUI Injury
When a person is seriously injured or killed as a result of someone else’s choice to drink and drive, they or their surviving loved ones are entitled to collect damages in civil court. The justice system allows two types of damages in injury cases: compensatory and punitive.
There is no special process for seeking compensatory damages, as these are meant to indemnify a person for a particular loss, detriment, or injury. These damages are intended specifically to replace what was lost. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to punish a defendant for his conduct and serve as a deterrent to future acts. In both cases, damages are awarded to the plaintiff. The drunk driving injury lawyers at Associates at Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, have secured both compensatory and substantial punitive damages for many victims of drunk driving across Southwest Florida.
Compensatory damages are intended to cover specific losses that can include the following:
Medical Expenses. The bill for that initial ambulance ride and hospital stay is just the beginning; there are often ongoing costs for rehabilitation, transportation, and medication. These and any other expenses related to your injury would be covered.
Lost Wages. If an injury prevents a person from working, he or she may pursue up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and still retain his or her job under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The lost wages may be recoverable in suit.
Loss of Earning Capacity. In the event an injury results in permanent disability affecting a victim’s ability to work in the same way as prior to the crash, the injured person is entitled to collect damages to make up the difference.
Pain and Suffering. This would cover costs and compensation for mental anguish and physical pain a person suffers as a result of the crash. This could be in the form of bills for psychological care and medication to treat depression and/or anxiety, or it may be more subjective and up to the court’s discretion.
Loss of Consortium. The spouse of a victim may be entitled to seek compensation for the loss of intimacy or damage to the quality of the marriage resulting from the crash.
Punitive Damages in Florida DUI
While any DUI victim may pursue compensatory damages, special permission must be granted by the court prior to trial in order to obtain punitive damages.
Florida Statute 768.72 holds that no claim for punitive damages will be allowed unless there is some reasonable showing that would establish some reasonable foundation for them.
The intention of this statute is to bar groundless, frivolous claims that force a defendant to extend resources to fight them off, despite an obvious lack of substance. Even if a judge allows a plaintiff to seek punitive damages, it will be up to a jury to decide whether such damages are warranted.
The standard jury instructions, as outlined by the Florida Supreme Court, justify punitive damages if, by greater weight of the evidence, the jury finds the conduct:
- So flagrant and gross as to show reckless disregard for human life or the safety of those exposed to it;
- Showed an entire lack of care that the defendant was consciously indifferent to the consequences;
- Showed an entire lack of care that the defendant recklessly or wantonly disregarded public welfare;
- Showed such reckless indifference to the rights of others as to equate to an intentional violation of those rights.
It’s worth noting the Florida legislature has singled out DUI cases as uniquely qualified for punitive damages. And in 1976, the Florida Supreme Court held in Ingram v. Pettit that the voluntary act of impaired driving constitutes a “sufficiently reckless attitude for a jury to be asked to provide an award of punitive damages if it determines liability exists for compensatory damages.”
Further, Florida Statute 768.736 holds the threshold of proof for establishing the right to pursue punitive damages in a DUI case falls under the “greater weight of evidence” standard, as opposed to the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is more stringent. Additionally, laws that limit punitive damage recovery in other negligence cases are not applicable to victims of impaired drivers.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a drunk driving accident in Southwest Florida, please contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, and Port Charlotte.