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You Can Be Awarded Punitive Damages Against Drunk Drivers


In personal injury cases, Florida law makes it very hard to get punitive damages against liable Defendants. There are a number of hurdles to get punitive damages.

Punitive Damages in Normal Cases

The first hurdle is that you can’t even ask for punitive damages, when you first file your case. Rather, you have to gather evidence during the discovery phase of the case, to show the court that there is enough evidence to even warrant a jury giving you punitive damages.

If the judge agrees, you can ask the jury, but if the judge does not, you are not even allowed to ask the jury for punitive damages.

To get the judge to say yes and allow you to ask for punitive damages, and ultimately, to get a jury to agree to award you punitive damages, you have to show that a Defendant had a reckless disregard for safety, or that the Defendant was absolutely indifferent to the consequences of his or her actions.

This is a much higher standard of carelessness than the standard negligence that must be proven in a regular negligence case, to get traditional economic and non economic damages.

You also need to prove your case by “clear and convincing evidence,” a much higher burden of proof than the standard “greater weight of the evidence” that applies to almost every other kind of civil case.

And once you meet that threshold, you have another problem: The amount of punitive damages that can be awarded is limited or capped, top three times your non punitive damages, or $500,000, whichever is higher.

DUI is Different

But the Florida Legislature treats those who injure others as a result of DUI, differently. Almost none of these restrictions above apply to those who cause injury because of drunk driving, making it much easier for victims of DUIs to be awarded punitive damages.

First, if you sue someone who injures you because they were drunk driving, you only need to prove your case by the standard, “greater weight of the evidence” standard.

Additionally, the cap or limit on punitive damages, doesn’t apply to drunk drivers.

And while you still need to ask the court for permission to include a claim for punitive damages, the Florida Supreme Court has already said that drunk driving warrants a claim for punitive damages. That makes it easier to get a judge to approve your request to ask for punitive damages.

Conviction Doesn’t Matter

Additionally, it doesn’t matter if the Defendant was never actually convicted in a criminal court. Even if the Defendant was found not guilty, or entered into a plea bargain, or had the case dismissed, you, as an injury victim in civil court, can still show the Defendant injured you while under the influence of alcohol, allowing you to get punitive damages.

Call the West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at Pike & Lustig today for help if you have been injured by a drunk driver.



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