Victims Of Drunk Drivers Entitlement to Punitive Damages in Florida

On March 2, 2013, FloridaToday.com reported on the unfortunate death of two Brevard County teens that were killed in a car accident caused by a suspected drunk driver. On February 28, 2013, Rachel Price, 18, and a passenger, Jamaree Cook, 19, were traveling west on U.S. 192 near St. Cloud, Florida when an oncoming pickup truck cut in front Price. Price’s vehicle collided with the pickup and then hit another vehicle stopped at the intersection, killing both Price and Cook. The driver of the pickup was arrested at the scene on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

This unfortunate incident highlights a continuing problem of negligent and reckless drivers on Florida’s roadways. Because it is impossible to completely safeguard oneself from negligent drivers, it is important that motorists be aware that in the event they are injured in a car accident caused by the negligence or recklessness of another they have a right to compensation and in some instances punitive damages. Punitive damages are not recoverable in every case. Under Florida law, there first be a be a proffer of evidence in the record before a claim for punitive damages can even be included as part of a personal injury lawsuit.


In the case of Price and Cook, this is especially important because Florida law allows a person that has been injured or killed in a car accident caused by an intoxicated driver to recover punitive damages as well as compensatory damages.

Punitive Damages under Florida Law

Section 768.72 of Florida Statutes, states that in civil actions punitive damages may be plead in civil actions when there is a “reasonable showing by evidence” that provides a “reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.” This burden of proof and legal standard under Florida law to be awarded punitive damages is more specifically delineated in Florida’s jury instructions which state that punitive damages may be warranted if a jury finds by the greater weight of the evidence that the defendant’s conduct that caused the injury to the plaintiff was:

1. Gross and flagrant as to show a reckless disregard of human life or of the safety of persons;
2. Showed such an entire lack of care that the defendant must have been consciously indifferent to the consequences;
3. Showed an entire lack of care that the defendant must have wantonly or recklessly disregarded the safety and welfare of the public;
4. Showed such reckless indifference to the rights of others as to be equivalent to an intentional violation of those rights.

The Florida Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are appropriate in cases where “negligence is coupled with intoxication.” Ingram v. Pettit (1976), 340 So. 2d 922. In addition, the Florida legislature carved out certain specific exceptions to the general limitation on the recovery of punitive damages with regard to civil cases involving drunk driving.

Section 768.736 of Florida Statutes establishes the burden of proof for proving punitive damages as the “greater weight of evidence standard”, which is a lower burden of proof than the “clear and convincing evidence” standard usually used in punitive damages cases. Furthermore, although the amount of punitive damages a plaintiff can recover in civil cases usually may not exceed more than 3 to 5 times compensatory damages, those limitations do not apply in cases involving driving while intoxicated and driving under the influence of drugs.
The Miami,Florida car accident lawyers at Gerson and Schwartz, P.A. have extensive experience representing injury victims and their families involved in serious and catastrophic injury cases including wrongful death claims involving drunk driving accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile accident, motorcycle crash, or other accident due to the negligence or reckless acts of another contact the Florida injury attorneys of Gerson and Schwartz, P.A. today for a free personal injury consultation. 1-877-475-2905.