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Florida’s High Court Rejects Wrongful Death Damages Cap Imposed by Lower Court

Recently, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a written opinion in a case rejecting a lower court’s decision to impose what appeared to be a bright-line rule regarding the available amount of damages a Florida wrongful death plaintiff is able to obtain. In so doing, the state’s high court held that the lower court failed to give the proper deference to the jury’s verdict as well as the trial court’s decision not to grant the defendant’s post-verdict motion to reduce the amount of damages awarded by the jury.

The Case

The case was brought by a woman whose mother died from lung cancer and was filed against a cigarette manufacturer. The jury determined that the plaintiff’s mother was addicted to cigarettes and that this addiction was the legal cause of her death. The jury heard evidence that the plaintiff was very close with her mother, and returned an award in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $4.5 million.

In a post-trial motion, the defendant claimed that the damages awarded by the jury were excessive, and requested that the trial judge either reduce the damages to a reasonable amount or grant a new trial. The court denied the defendant’s motion after considering the evidence in this case and looking at jury verdicts in similar cases, noting that “nothing in the record … suggest[s] that the verdict was the product of passion and prejudice.” The defendant appealed.

The Initial Appeal

On appeal to the intermediate appellate court, the case was reversed and a new trial was ordered. That court held that regardless of the evidence presented “an adult child who lives independent of the parent during the parent’s smoking-related illness and death is not entitled to multi-million dollar compensatory damages award.” The plaintiff appealed.

The Final Appeal

The Supreme Court of Florida reversed the intermediate appellate court and reinstated the jury’s verdict. The court based its decision not on the specific evidence presented in this case, but on state’s wrongful death statute and the broad principle that a trial judge’s ruling on a post-trial motion is entitled to great deference and should only be reversed when it is shown the judge abused her discretion.

The court first noted that nothing in the Florida wrongful death statute provides a limit for the amount of money a child can recover for the loss of their parent, even if they are not financially dependent upon them at the time of the death. The court explained that all jury verdicts are subject to the same scrutiny and that a court must reduce a verdict amount only when it is shown that the verdict was “indicative of passion, prejudice, or corruption.”

The court noted that the trial court provided an adequate basis for its decision to deny the defendant’s post-trial motion and that there was no abuse of discretion. The court also held that the intermediate appellate court’s opinion created a bright-line rule regarding the total amount of damages in a wrongful death case that was unsupported by statute or case law. Thus, the court rejected the approach taken by the intermediate appellate court and reinstated the jury’s $4.5 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Have You Been Injured in a South Florida Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of South Florida accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated South Florida personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank have decades of collective experience handling a wide range of injury claims, including Florida wrongful death cases. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Discusses Caterer’s Liability in Recent Food-Poisoning Case, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published September 19, 2018.

Florida Personal Injury Victims and the Importance of Being Careful When Settling a Case, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published October 4, 2018.

 

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