Punitive damage awards – which can potentially triple the monetary damages to which you are entitled in an injury lawsuit – are notoriously tough to obtain in Florida medical malpractice cases. Even getting judicial approval to request them requires proof of gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct – rare in any medical negligence case. The West Palm Beach medical malpractice attorney you hire should be able to tell you whether it’s at all a possibility after a careful assessment of the facts of your case.
There are two basic types of damages you can seek in a Florida injury case: Compensatory and punitive.
Compensatory damages are paid to compensate someone for specific losses, injuries or detriments. There are actual (aka “special”) compensatory damages (medical bills, lost wages, transportation, rehabilitation, property replacement, etc.) as well as general compensatory damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, loss of life enjoyment, etc.).
Punitive damages, meanwhile, are intended to punish the defendant for egregious negligence or intentional wrongdoing and/or to serve as a deterrent. It is paid to you, but the driving factor is the outrageousness of the defendant’s wrongful conduct. Punitive damages are capped in Florida to be either three times the amount of the compensatory damages OR $500,000, whichever is greater.
Medical malpractice claims in Florida are tougher than the average tort case as it is because it’s not enough to show the health care provider simply failed to use reasonable care (the standard for typical negligence claims). What must be established – by expert witness testimony of a similarly-situated medical professional – is that the health care provider failed to follow the applicable standard of care for their specialty, region, and circumstances. Doing so would entitle the claimant to collect compensatory damages for their injuries.