Florida courts and lawmakers have long been known for keeping the damages that can be sought in civil suits to a minimum. Our state has a cap on punitive damages that can be awarded in a case, unless it’s found that the defendant intentionally inflicted harm. That cap is $500,000 or triple the compensatory damages (whichever of the two is larger).
The Florida Supreme Court has now made it easier for defendants to evade punitive damages. In an unusual move, at least one justice on the high court requested the Florida Bar to draft a rule change that would allow defendants to appeal the punitive damages sought by a defendant any time during the case rather than having to wait until punitive damages are awarded.
The high court approved the rule change in January, and it takes effect April 1. Typically, such changes are initiated by the Bar itself or by state legislators. It should be noted that no other state has this rule.
Will plaintiffs be less likely to seek punitive damages?
Among the most likely effects of this change is that cases will be delayed as defendants’ appeals are heard – even though punitive damages haven’t even yet been awarded. These delays can be costly for both sides. The lone dissenting justice noted that the ruling, will “stall” personal injury cases involving “claims for much needed medical and economic relief.” One Florida law professor said that it will “chill plaintiffs’ requests for punitive damages.”
While the new rule may dissuade some plaintiffs from seeking punitive damages, if they are applicable, you have every right to seek them. With experienced legal guidance, you improve your chances of getting the punitive damages you deserve, even if the plaintiff appeals them.