What is Gross Negligence in Florida and Why Does It Matter?

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Are you familiar with the concept of gross negligence? A doctor amputates the wrong limb of a patient. A drunk driver speeds through a crowd of pedestrians. A nursing home fails to provide food and water to an elderly resident causing his or her death. These are examples of “gross negligence,” and such cases often lead to large financial settlements.

 Under Florida law, gross negligence is defined as “conduct so reckless or wanting in care that it constitutes a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.” 

This is in contrast to ordinary negligence which involves mistakes and failures to take reasonable precautions to prevent harm, like a wet floor causing a slip and fall accident, gross negligence is deliberate and reckless. As such, victims of gross negligence may be entitled to punitive damages. 

Unlike compensatory damages, which reflect lost wages and medical expenses incurred by a victim, punitive damages are meant to punish the offender. Courts often impose punitive damages to make an example of a defendant’s egregious wrongdoing. They can also be awarded with the intent of deterring others from similar conduct.

Proving gross negligence can be easier than establishing a standard negligence claim given that the conduct involved may often be clearly dangerous and unreasonable. For example, a utility company that leaves an exposed powerline near a children’s playground may have little defense if a child dies from electrocution during a game of tag.

A standard negligence case must establish four elements: a duty to prevent reasonable harm, a breach of that legal duty, the breach caused an injury to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the injury. A gross negligence claim only needs to show clear and convincing evidence that a defendant was excessively reckless or demonstrated an intentional disregard for others’ safety.

Punitive damages often result in high monetary awards, but Florida places limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be collected. Punitive damages are capped at $500,000 or triple the value of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. There are, however, exceptions for cases of intentional misconduct with a financial motivation. Such claims are capped at $2 million. 

If you or someone you know has been injured and you believe a gross negligence claim applies, contact our office for guidance. Florida’s gross negligence laws exist to protect victims and their families. A consultation can also impart valuable information about how businesses, professionals and others can proactively avoid such claims.