Punitive Damages Aren’t So Easy to Get
Punitive damages are probably the type of damages the general public knows best. You may be surprised to know that it is harder to get punitive damages than you may think.
The Arguments for and Against
Of course, there are two sides to punitive damages. Some believe that they are an unnecessary punishment, and that the legal civil system is supposed to make people whole who have suffered some kind of injury—it is not intended to punish people.
On the other hand, many people cite punitive damages as a way to keep people, and society, honest. The specter of a huge punitive damage award is what ensures that people and businesses don’t take advantage of each other or the general public.
Certainly, punitive damages are unique. Outside of criminal law, the civil system rarely seeks to punish. In fact, in many cases, such as in liquidated damages clauses in contracts, punitive damage clauses can be held to be unenforceable. But Florida law does recognize punitive damages, and when they can be awarded.
Permission is Needed
No matter how awful the behavior of a party, and no matter what you think the other side did, you are not allowed to ask for punitive damages when you start the case. You must build up a showing, through the gathering of evidence, to demonstrate that there was or could have been some behavior worthy of having punitive damages awarded.
Once that evidence is gathered, the party seeking the damages must ask the judge for permission to ask for punitive damages once the case goes to trial. The party seeking damages tells the court what it intends to show, in order to justify asking for punitive damages.
If the court agrees, the party does not automatically get punitive damages—it just wins the right to ask for them at trial.
Punitive Damages Against Employers
Getting punitive damages against a company can be difficult, because the behavior of an employee could be worthy of punitive damages, but the employer may not have known about, condoned, or approved of the behavior.
For example, assume one of your employees gets drunk, and then gets behind the wheel of a car to make a delivery for your business. The employee then injures someone as he was driving drunk.
To get punitive damages against the employer/company, the party suing must show that the employer was a willing participant in the behavior, or the Plaintiff must show that the employer/business actively and knowingly knew of the behavior and allowed it to happen. This is a very tough burden, but even so, it’s always best to have policies and procedures in place to try to avoid any behavior by employees that could lead to punitive damage awards.