Florida Statute 768.72

Strictly Complying with Procedural Requirements when Moving to Amend to Add Punitive Damages

Posted by David Adelstein on October 01, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Strictly Complying with Procedural Requirements when Moving to Amend to Add Punitive Damages

Punitive damages can be an important component of a plaintiff’s damages. No doubt about it. No defendant wants the jury to be able to determine whether to award these damages or the quantum of punitive damages associated with its/his/her gross negligence or intentional misconduct.  Punitive damages can be a game changer.

The objective behind punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer-defendant and deter the wrongful conduct, rather than to compensate the plaintiff. Estate of Despain v. Avante Group, Inc., 900 So.2d 637, 640 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005). “Because the amount of an award [of punitive damages] may be a pittance to a rich man and ruination to a poor one, the goal of punishment must of necessity take into account the financial worth of the wrongdoer.” Id. at 641. For this reason, once the court grants a motion to allow punitive damages, this allows the plaintiff to seek financial worth discovery on the wrongdoer-defendant. Id.

If you are interested in preserving your rights to assert punitive damages, you must comply with both Florida Statute s. 768.72 [Pleading in civil actions; claim for punitive damages] and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(f) [Claims for Punitive Damages].

Florida Statute s. 768.72 provides in relevant part:

(1) In any civil action, no claim for punitive damages shall be permitted unless there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. The claimant may move to amend her or his complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages as allowed by the rules of civil procedure. The rules of civil procedure shall be liberally construed so as to allow the claimant discovery of evidence which appears reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence on the issue of punitive damages. No discovery of financial worth shall proceed until after the pleading concerning punitive damages is permitted.

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(f) provides:

A motion for leave to amend a pleading to assert a claim for punitive damages shall make a reasonable showing, by evidence in the record or evidence to be proffered by the claimant, that provides a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. The motion to amend can be filed separately and before the supporting evidence or proffer, but each shall be served on all parties at least 20 days before the hearing.

Both Florida Statute s. 768.72 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(f) MUST be considered in detail when moving to amend to add punitive damages. When a court grants a plaintiff’s motion to amend to add punitive damages, this gives the defendant the right to file an appeal for certiorari relief to argue that the plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Section 768.72 and Rule 1.190(f).   See Fetlar, LLC v. Suarez, 2017 WL 3879968 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (reversing motion to amend authorizing punitive damages because the plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Section 768.72 and Rule 1.190).  This appellate right makes it all the more important to ensure that the procedural requirements are being strictly complied with when moving to amend to add punitive damages. 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Punitive Damages for Business Torts

Posted by David Adelstein on March 31, 2017
Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Punitive Damages for Business Torts

Punitive damages can be warranted in business torts, although you are dealing with a much tougher threshold. Typically, the misconduct warranting the punitive damages needs to be intentional, i.e., the defendant had knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and its high probability of damage and engaged in the misconduct anyway. See Fla. Stat. 768.72. This is because “‘the purpose of punitive damages is not to further compensate the plaintiff, but to punish the defendant for the wrongful conduct and to deter similar misconduct by it and other actors in the future.’”   See Bistline v. Rogers, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D706a (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) quoting Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp. v. Ballard, 749 So.2d 483, 486 (Fla. 1999). Thus, an award of punitive damages for a business tort will typically need to require evidence showing fraud, malice, or deliberately outrageous conduct. See Bistline, supra.

A party, however, just cannot come right out of the gate and sue for punitive damages. Rather, a party needs to file a lawsuit and thereafter make an evidentiary proffer supporting the intentional misconduct that it believes gives rise to punitive damages for a business tort. What is plead is an allegation – it is not evidence—and will not support an evidentiary proffer. Again, there needs to be an evidentiary proffer with evidence reasonably showing the basis of the intentional misconduct to support an award for punitive damages.   See Bistline, supra (reversing award of punitive damages because there was not reasonable evidentiary proffer and because trial court based amendment to assert punitive damages on allegations in complaint, which is not evidence).

It is important that a party moving for punitive damages properly make that evidentiary proffer with the court to allow it to amend its complaint to include these damages. This is important in any punitive damages proffer, particularly in business tort disputes where the threshold is greater.  In this manner, the procedural requirements in Florida Statute s. 768.72 are crucial to comply with. Because an impermissible punitive damages award is difficult to remedy on appeal, a defendant will be entitled to certiorari review “to determine whether a trial court has complied with the procedural requirements of section 768.72…but not the sufficiency of the evidence.” See Bistline, supra, quoting Tilton v. Wrobel, 198 So.3d 909, 910 (Fla. DCA 2006).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Asserting Punitive Damages (or Appealing the Decision to Allow for Punitive Damages)

Posted by David Adelstein on July 09, 2016
Appeal, Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Asserting Punitive Damages (or Appealing the Decision to Allow for Punitive Damages)

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So, you are interested in pursuing punitive damages. Then you MUST comply with the requirements of Florida Statute s. 768.72. This statute provides in relevant part:

(1) In any civil action, no claim for punitive damages shall be permitted unless there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. The claimant may move to amend her or his complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages as allowed by the rules of civil procedure. The rules of civil procedure shall be liberally construed so as to allow the claimant discovery of evidence which appears reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence on the issue of punitive damages. No discovery of financial worth shall proceed until after the pleading concerning punitive damages is permitted.

(2) A defendant may be held liable for punitive damages only if the trier of fact, based on clear and convincing evidence, finds that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Intentional misconduct” means that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage to the claimant would result and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage.

(b) “Gross negligence” means that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.

It is NOT appropriate to merely plead punitive damages in your initial lawsuit and think by virtue of this allegation that you will be able to argue punitive damages to the jury. That would not be fair, would it? This would simply allow a party in every civil lawsuit to argue punitive damages to the jury. 

Rather, and as you can see from the statute, you must reasonably show by proffering evidence to the trial court that you have a reasonable basis to the recovery of such damages. But, you are able to take discovery relating to evidence you want to proffer associated with punitive damages (assuming the discovery is reasonable).   And, presuming the trial court allows you to argue punitive damages to the jury, a defendant should only be liable for punitive damages based on clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence, as defined in the statute.  The statute provides standards in order for a party to pursue and argue punitive damages to the jury.

What do you do if you are a defendant and the trial court grants the plaintiff’s motion for leave to include a punitive damages component? Punitive damages are a damages-component you do NOT want argued to the jury.

Certiorari review is available to determine whether a trial court has complied with the procedural requirements of section 768.72, but not to review the sufficiency of the [proffered] evidence.” HCA Health Services of Florida, Inc. d/b/a St. Lucie Medical Center v. Byers-McPheeters, 2016 WL 3549595, *1 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).  Stated differently, you can seek a writ of certiorari arguing the trial court failed to properly comply with s. 768.72, but not to review the evidence proffered to the trial court relating to the trial court’s decision to allow a punitive damages component.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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