In a recent case, the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida Fourth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence action arising from a car accident. The negligence action occurred between the plaintiffs and the defendant after the defendant hit a golf cart with her car, potentially injuring the plaintiffs in the process. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant’s conduct amounted to gross negligence and sued. The defendant appealed the trial court’s order granting the plaintiff’s motion to amend their complaint to plead a claim for punitive damages.
The underlying accident occurred in the morning on a residential street located inside a gated country club housing community. A resident had stopped his golf cart on the side of the street to speak with the plaintiffs approximately four to five feet past an intersection. The plaintiffs were standing in the street between the golf cart and the sidewalk when the defendant drove her car around the corner and onto the street with the golf cart and the plaintiffs. In the process of entering the street, the defendant collided with the golf cart and hit both of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs claimed that one of them suffered from permanent injuries as a result of the crash. Subsequently, they sued the defendant for loss of consortium and later moved to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages based on gross negligence.
In the proposed amended complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant had a habit of speeding in the community, that she was speeding at the time of the accident, and that she ran the stop sign at the corner of the intersection before turning onto the street where they were standing. In support of the allegations, the plaintiffs submitted their own answers to interrogatories, an affidavit from the golf cart owner, and a proffer of testimony from the resident with the golf cart. The court granted the motion to amend and the defendant timely appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant’s actions amounted to gross negligence or intentional misconduct, allowing them to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages. The plaintiff’s claim stated that they successfully established a reasonable basis to find that the defendant’s conduct did amount to gross negligence because their proffered evidence showed that the defendant “consciously disregarded” the safety of everyone in the community by habitually speeding, speeding at the time of the accident, and running the stop sign at the intersection.” The appellate court disagreed, finding that the plaintiff’s proffer was insufficient to establish a reasonable evidentiary basis for recovery of punitive damages based on gross negligence. The opinion stated that the plaintiff’s proffer only demonstrated that the defendant’s conduct amounted to ordinary negligence, not the “outrageous” conduct that would support a claim for punitive damages. The appeals court reversed and remanded the claim.
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