Appellate Court Reverse Lower Court in Florida Negligence Case, Denying Punitive Damages

Recently, the district court of appeals for the State of Florida Fourth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence claim by the appellant, Ebsary Foundation Company (Ebsary), against the appellee, Thomas C. Servinsky and Marie L. Servinsky. The Severinskys punitive damages claim is based on the allegation that Ebsary negligently hired Michael Pool (Pool) and gave him a company vehicle. While in that company vehicle, Pool crashed into Thomas Servinsky and caused significant injuries. The Servinskys filed a negligence claim against Ebsary. The circuit court issued an order granting Servisnky’s motion for leave to amend to state a claim for punitive damages. Ebsary appealed.

Facts of the Case

In October 2016, Ebsary hired Pool as a superintendent and provided him with a company vehicle. In December of that same year, Pool was driving that company vehicle when he crashed into Servisnky, who was also driving. The crash totaled both cars and caused significant injuries. Servinsky and his wife sued Ebsary, Pool, and the Geico General Insurance Company. The Servinskys filed an amended complaint alleging, in part, negligence against Pool, vicarious liability against Ebsary, and negligent hiring against Ebsary.

The first amended complaint also included a claim for punitive damages against Pool. The circuit court granted Servinsky’s motion for leave to amend the complaint to include the punitive damages claim against Pool and the negligent hiring claim against Ebsary. Later the Servinskys again sought to amend their complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages against Ebsary. The circuit court allowed the amendment and Ebsary appealed shortly after.

On appeal, Ebsary argues that: (1) the Servinskys’ proffered evidence is not directly related to the allegations that Ebsary was grossly negligent in hiring Pool and (2) the Servinskys argued that Ebsary was grossly negligent in hiring Pool without determining if he had a valid driver’s license and without a background report. The appellate court agreed, stating in its decision that the “allegations in this case are not so outrageous as to allow a claim
for punitive damages.” The appeals court subsequently reversed the circuit court’s order, remanding the case for further proceedings, and denied the punitive damages for the Servinskys.

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