Florida Appeals Court Affirms Punitive Damages in Pedestrian Accident Lawsuit

The First District Court of the State of Florida recently issued an opinion in response to a defendant’s petition for certiorari review of a punitive damages claim. The case arose following an incident where the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant ran his car into the plaintiff and several other pedestrians. The defendant pled guilty to the claims, and the plaintiff amended his complaint to add a claim for punitive damages. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint, and the defendant appealed.

Under Florida law, a party may ask the court for certiorari relief if the party believes that the trial court failed to comply with appropriate procedural requirements. The party must establish that the trial court departed from the law’s requirements, which resulted in a material injury to the case, and the error cannot be corrected on appeal.

In this case, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the plaintiff to claim punitive damages. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff did not abide by the evidentiary requirements of a punitive damages claim. Further, the defendant argued that the court failed to make the appropriate findings that the plaintiff met the punitive damages evidentiary standard.

Florida’s punitive damages statute, section 768.72(1), provides that plaintiffs who wish to file a claim for punitive damages must present evidence that provides a reasonable basis for recovery. The law allows plaintiffs to amend their complaint to claim punitive damages, and the court should liberally construe the evidence that the party presents. Punitive damages are generally only awarded when the defendant engaged in particularly egregious behavior, such as driving under the influence or intentional and reckless driving.

Here, the defendant argued that the court failed to make an express or affirmative finding of an evidentiary basis for the claim. The plaintiff provided evidence of the defendant’s criminal case, a copy of sentence recommendations, and a report and deposition of the responding officer. The court concluded that this evidence was sufficient and that the statute does not require affirmative or express findings. Ultimately, the court found that the trial court complied with the procedural requirements; therefore, they denied the defendant’s petition.

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