Can You Receive Punitive Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice lawsuits are brought when a medical professional injures a patient. For example, a surgeon who punctures a patient’s organ during surgery or leaves a sponge inside has committed malpractice because he did not operate according to the prevailing professional standard of care. A dentist who removes the wrong tooth or who carelessly damages your nerves has also committed malpractice.
In the typical lawsuit, a patient can receive compensatory damages. These are sums of money awarded to make up for the financial costs associated with the injuries, such as needing corrective surgery or losing wages because you are too injured to work. A patient can also receive compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress, or both.
But what about punitive damages? These differ from compensatory damages because they are designed to punish a defendant. In a few situations, punitive damages might be warranted in a medical malpractice case.
When Can a Jury Award Punitive Damages?
Florida law allows a jury to award punitive damages if the defendant acted with intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Generally, a medical professional acts with intentional misconduct when they know their conduct was wrongful and that it had a high probability of injuring the patient.
Gross negligence consists of reckless conduct that shows an indifference to the safety of the patient. It is a more serious form of negligence than mere carelessness. A doctor who shows up to the operating room after drinking alcohol or smoking a joint has exhibited a lack of regard for the patient’s safety and could be ordered to pay punitive damages.
How Much Can the Jury Award?
The jury can award any amount that they think will properly punish the defendant. However, Florida law caps punitive damage awards. Under Fla. Stat. § 768.73, a victim can receive at most three times his compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. So if the victim’s compensatory damages total $120,000, he can receive a maximum of $500,000. However, if the victim’s compensatory damages total $200,000, he can receive up to $600,000 in punitive damages.
There are exceptions to the cap:
- If the defendant was motivated by financial gain, then punitive damages can be four times the compensatory damages, or $2,000,000, whichever is greater.
- If the defendant intentionally injured a defendant, then there is no cap to the punitive damages.
What Evidence Do You Need to Prove Punitive Damages?
You will need some proof that the doctor or other medical professional acted with gross negligence or with an intent to injure you. Often, this is difficult in medical malpractice cases. For example, if you were injured in surgery, you will need the eyewitness testimony of others in the operating room. You might also need to depose the medical professional who injured you to better understand his or her state of mind.
These are difficult cases, so you should have a qualified Daytona Beach medical malpractice lawyer on your team. At Bundza & Rodriguez, we represent injured victims and can help you, too. Please call 386-252-5170 for more information.