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Getting Punitive Damages Against A Company Isn’t So Easy


In Florida, a victim in an accident can get punitive damages against a Defendant. Generally to get punitive damages, a victim needs to show that the Defendant acted recklessly, without care, or almost intentionally. It is a much higher standard than just simple negligence.

Getting Punitive Damages Against Companies

On top of the difficulties in being awarded punitive damages are the difficulties that victims may face when they try to get punitive damages against a company or corporation. A corporation doesn’t have “intent” the way a human being does, and although a company can certainly act recklessly, with little or no regard for safety, a corporation is composed of many people, from management to the workers on the ground. Who in the company has to be reckless for the victim to be awarded punitive damages?

Difficulties With Companies

To get punitive damages, a victim needs to show that the company acted with reckless indifference, or that it exhibited a disregard for safety. That alone is a high bar to prove.

But a victim needs to go farther when trying to get punitive damages against a company. The victim needs to show that a manager, officer, or a managing agent acted that way—not just a simple lower-level worker. In other words, the recklessness or carelessness must be known by top management, or the direction that led to the accident must have “come from the top.”

The victim must show there is something inherent about how the company operates, or about their company policies, that was indifferent to others’ safety.

That can be hard to show, for two reasons: First, because careless behavior or very reckless behavior is often unknown to and unsanctioned by top management. For example, if a store employee leaves heavy boxes teetering on the top shelf in a store, and those boxes eventually topple and injures someone, it’s unlikely that any manager or high level corporate officer, knew of, condoned, or allowed that kind of behavior—it was probably just a super careless employee.

Who Has to Know?

The other problem is that courts have wrestled with the question of who has to know about the behavior in the company in order to make the company liable for punitive damages. In other words, who is a manager or officer?

Courts can be very strict on this. There have been cases where “mid-level managers” who knew of careless behavior, were not considered “management,” and thus their knowledge of reckless behavior was not enough to justify an award of punitive damages against the company.

This means that in punitive damage cases against companies, the victim need not just show the careless or reckless behavior, but a full inquiry has to be done in the company, as to who knew of the behavior, and how high on the corporate ladder the people who knew actually are.

Call the West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at Pike & Lustig if you have been injured by the reckless actions of a company or corporation.




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