Punitive Damages in a Florida Personal Injury Case

When someone is injured while on the job, it can be both physically and emotionally difficult to recuperate. When an employer terminates a worker because they can no longer work at the level they used to, it may be cause for a lawsuit. A Florida appeals court was recently tasked with deciding whether an employee who was terminated after being injured on the job was entitled to, amongst other financial compensation, punitive damages—meaning the employer acted callously and disregarded her rights by not reinstating her.

Under maritime law, when someone works on a ship, the shipowner has the responsibility to provide food, lodging, and medical services—called “maintenance and cure” if a crew member is injured while working aboard the ship. However, the obligation to provide maintenance and cure concludes when the worker reaches maximum medical improvement.

In this case, the plaintiff worked as a server aboard a cruise ship. Approximately three months into her employment, she was hit by a car when on shore leave. The plaintiff then debarked the ship and returned home, and her cruise ship employer—the defendant in this case—paid her medical bills. She later was deemed at maximum medical improvement, returned to work, and then complained about chest pain within weeks; then, her employer told her to speak with a physician and they would reimburse her medical bills. When the plaintiff’s doctor stated the plaintiff was not fit to work as a server but declared her at the maximum medical improvement level, the defendant terminated her benefits. Over the next three years, the plaintiff sent the defendant her medical bills and statements from her doctor; the defendant refused to reinstate her benefits.

The lower court found the defendant was negligent and failed to provide the care that the plaintiff was entitled to. The jury also awarded her $1 million in punitive damages based on the defendant’s three-year refusal to reinstate the maintenance and cure.

The defendant appealed the award of punitive damages, arguing they paid her benefits until it received notice of the plaintiff’s second maximum medical improvement. Ultimately, the court ruled that the plaintiff should not be awarded punitive damages because there was no evidence the defendant acted with callousness or bad faith. This is the required standard to prove punitive damages are warranted.

While the outcome of the appeals case did not benefit the plaintiff, the court insinuated if the plaintiff had provided evidence that her former employer acted callously, she may have been successful in her claim. Therefore, individuals thinking of pursuing a similar lawsuit should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

Contact a South Florida Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Florida cruise ship accident—whether as a passenger or as an employee of the ship—contact the attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada, P.A. We strive to secure justice for the injuries suffered by our clients and obtain the financial compensation they deserve—this includes seeking punitive damages, when applicable. To speak with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, give us a call today at 305-448-8585.

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