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Florida Appellate Court Addresses Direct Liability in Punitive Damages Lawsuit Against Corporation

A Florida appellate court recently addressed the appeal of a defendant power company after a jury verdict awarded a plaintiff non-economic and punitive damages. The power company alleged that the plaintiff failed to establish the requirements necessary for punitive damages claims.

The case stemmed from the tragic electrocution of a 15-year-old who was climbing bamboo stalks next to a power line. The teenager was electrocuted after the bamboo line bent over into the power line. His mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the power line, alleging that it was directly responsible for maintaining and upholding the safety protocols that the power line requires. She claimed that the power company prioritized their own financial interests while knowingly failing to secure against the life and safety of the public. In addition to compensatory damages, the woman pursued punitive damages based on direct corporate liability.

Punitive damages are unique in that they are designed solely to punish and deter defendants from engaging in similar conduct. Florida injury victims who pursue punitive damages against a defendant must meet certain evidentiary requirements before they can claim these types of damages. In cases where a plaintiff pursues a direct liability theory against a business or entity, they must be able to overcome additional evidentiary standards.

Direct liability is only possible if the plaintiff proves that the corporation engaged in actions that were exceptionally “reckless or wanton” and that conduct amounted to the conscious indifference to the life, safety, or rights of the victim. Additionally, the plaintiff must show that the managing agent engaged in willful and malicious conduct. Florida courts have not thoroughly addressed who constitutes a managing agent; however, related case law suggests that the employee must be more than a manager or mid-level employee. Generally, managing agents are those that primarily control or own the corporation. Finally, even if a managing agent is responsible for the action, their actions must be akin to actions involved in criminal manslaughter cases.

In this instance, the mother argued that a particular supervisor was grossly negligent in his management of the vegetation program. The supervisor testified that he only controlled a limited geographical area, and he lacked the power to make policy decisions. Further, he did not know of the specific safety standards that were violated and did not have knowledge of the teenager’s tragic accident. Ultimately, the court found that the woman’s claim for non-economic damages was appropriate but reversed her punitive damage award.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of the Negligence of a Florida Corporation?

If you or a loved one suffered injuries or died because of the negligence of a Florida business, contact the dedicated attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank. Our experienced Florida trial attorneys are skilled at handling complex personal injury lawsuits, including Florida premises liability claims. We have successfully resolved and litigated various accident lawsuits on behalf of countless Florida injury victims and their families. In addition to compensatory damages, our clients have been awarded punitive damages in certain cases. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation with one of our highly-qualified Florida injury lawyers.

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