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Can I Get Punitive Damages In A Tractor-Trailer Accident Case?


Accidents involving tractor-trailers are often very serious, being disproportionately more likely to cause serious injuries or deaths. If you are able to establish that the driver of the tractor-trailer was negligent, you may be able to recover money damages for the injuries that negligence caused. Some severely injured plaintiffs even try to recover punitive damages if the harm they suffered has been particularly serious – however, succeeding on this path is unlikely in Florida, unless certain rare exceptions apply.

Different Types Of Damages Possible 

In civil court, money damages are usually the appropriate remedy for most plaintiffs (though in some cases, there may be other ways of making a plaintiff ‘whole’). Florida law recognizes several different types of damages that can be awarded in civil court. The two most common are known as economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those which are fairly easy to quantify – the most common examples are medical bills, lost wages, and legal fees. These are awarded based on your percentage of fault – for example, if you are ruled 20 percent at fault for your own injuries, you may receive 80 percent of your economic damages as an award.

Non-economic damages, by comparison, are those which are more vague, and may require the testimony of an expert to properly gauge amounts. The most common categories are pain and suffering, loss of consortium (essentially, the loss of the full benefits of a family relationship), mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life, among others. It can be difficult to arrive at figures for these intangible damages, but you have the right to seek them if you can demonstrate your losses – which is not always easy to do.

“Intentional Misconduct Or Gross Negligence” 

The third type of civil damages in Florida law is punitive damages, and unlike the other two more common types of damages, punitive damages are only granted in exceptional circumstances. Florida law states that punitive damages are only to be granted if the court finds, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that the defendant was “personally guilty” of “intentional misconduct or gross negligence.” This is an extremely high bar to reach, though it does happen in rare cases.

The concept of ‘intentional misconduct’ is fairly self-explanatory, but ‘gross negligence’ is less clear. Florida law defines the term as conduct so negligent that it displays a reckless disregard for the well-being or safety of others; in the criminal justice system sometimes this is referred to as having a ‘depraved heart.’ Negligence that is so deliberately reckless that safety is not a concern for the person acting is seen as more insidious than ordinary negligence – ordinary negligence is more akin to mistake than outright recklessness in many cases.

Contact A Tampa Tractor-Trailer Accident Attorney

Any accident involving a tractor-trailer has the potential to be catastrophic and cause lifelong injury. An injured plaintiff may be able to recover money damages if the tractor-trailer’s driver was negligent – but their conduct would have to be truly reckless in order for punitive damages to be appropriate. If you have questions or concerns, a Tampa tractor-trailer accident attorney from the Rinaldo Law Group may be able to assist. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation.



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