Understanding Intentional Misconduct and Gross Negligence
Accidents happen, but that doesn’t mean victims aren’t entitled to compensation for their injuries — especially when the accident happened because someone else acted negligently. Sometimes, though, a person’s conduct is so egregious that justice requires more than compensating the victim. In those cases, courts may award punitive damages intended to punish wrongdoers for their actions.
What Is “Intentional Misconduct” and “Gross Negligence”?
Florida courts will award punitive damages if the victim can prove “intentional misconduct” or “gross negligence.” Note that Florida caps the amount of punitive damages at three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $1 million, whichever is greater.
“Intentional misconduct” means “the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage” would result but still “intentionally pursued that course of conduct.” According to a Florida appeals court, the tobacco industry engaged in this kind of intentional misconduct. See the example below.
“Gross negligence” means that the “defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference” to the victim’s life, safety or rights. A Lee County court recently found that a power company’s gross negligence led to the death of a 15-year-old boy. See the next section for details.
What specific conduct rises to the level of intentional misconduct or gross negligence is often decided by a jury.
Examples of Intentional Misconduct and Gross Negligence
In April 2017, a Florida appeals court ordered two tobacco companies to pay $35 million — $20 million in punitive damages and $15 million in compensatory damages — to a former smoker who had undergone two double-lung transplants. A Polk County judge had reduced the original jury award, finding that the former smoker was partially at fault for his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The man began smoking when he was only 12 years old.
But the appeals court reinstated the original award. The court said that the evidence demonstrated the tobacco companies “intentionally designed addictive and deadly cigarettes and conspired for 50 years to hide the dangers of smoking cigarettes from the public. The tobacco industry spent billions of dollars to highly engineer cigarettes to promote addition to nicotine so that smokers would buy more cigarettes. And the tobacco industry searched for new smokers by investing heavily in marketing that targeted youths.”
In 2011, 15-year-old Justin Dominguez died after climbing a bamboo stalk that touched high-voltage power lines near a neighbor’s home. His mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Florida Power & Light, alleging that the company knew that bamboo is highly conductive and that it should be removed from the area. A Lee County jury recently found that the company’s inaction constituted gross negligence and awarded her $8.75 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages.
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Contact a Fort Myers personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation if you are the victim of defamation. We will help you recover the compensation that you are entitled to.
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