Page 139 - FDCC_InsightsSpecialIssue23.2
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Products Liability Law
 the punitive damages of $16 million were grossly out of proportion. Second, the cause of action for wrongful death in Florida is not common law but instead a creature of the legislature. Florida’s Wrongful Death Act (WDA) has always focused on compensation to the survivors, not the decedent. Therefore, in Florida, the death of a person gives rise to significantly less opportunity to recover damages than a serious injury to that person. Both Coates and the dissent take issue with this. However, in sticking to the letter of the law the Florida Supreme Court declined to step on the toes of the Florida Legislature by allowing death to serve as the cognizable injury for purposes of a punitive damages claim. Third, in applying the law to the undisputed facts, the Court found the trial court abused its discretion when denying RJR’s motion for remittitur or a new trial.
    This case garnered national attention as groups including Florida Defense Lawyers Association, Product Liability Advisory Counsel, Inc. and Washington Legal Foundation submitted amicus briefs in this matter. The way the Court adhered to the text of the statute have some believing this opinion is a win for textualism as it shows the Court’s willingness to follow the law as it is. Likewise, with the recent change to the Florida Appellate Procedure Rules allowing for interlocutory appeals for motions to include punitive damages may cause delays in litigation. Whether parties will be deterred from seeking punitive damages based upon the rule change and recent opinion is unknown. Instead, what this case solidifies is that if a party is awarded damages in excess of the 3:1 ratio in a wrongful death case, it must be reasonably related the injuries and damages. Similarly, a party in Florida can safely assume courts will not rewrite the Florida Legislature’s policy choice to exclude death as a cognizable injury for purposes of seeking punitive damages under the WDA and instead recognize the statutory beneficiaries injuries suffered.
  Dick Caldwell is one of the founding partners of RumbergerKirk in Tampa, FL. Contact him at: Brittney Polo is an associate in the RumbergerKirk Miami office. Contact her at:

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