Can you recover punitive damages in construction cases?
A party seeking damages in construction litigation is often so incensed at the other side’s perceived outrageous conduct that they want to recover more than those compensatory damages that would make them whole. One potential item of additional recovery to consider is punitive damages.
The purpose of awarding punitive damages under Florida law is not to further compensate the plaintiff, but to punish the defendant for its wrongful conduct and to deter similar future misconduct. The possibility of being subject to an award of punitive damages can be a significant impetus to resolve a dispute.
But are punitive damages recoverable in every construction dispute? The answer is … it depends on the particular case.
In Florida, breach of contract claims generally do not allow for the recovery of punitive damages. One seeking to foreclose a construction lien is likewise typically not entitled to recover punitive damages. However, where there is a finding of a fraudulent lien under Florida law, the lienor may be held liable for punitive damages. Fla. Stat. § 713.31. Simple negligence claims similarly do not generally provide for an award of punitive damages in Florida. Where, however, the negligent conduct rises to the level of gross negligence, punitive damages may be awarded. Fla. Stat. 768.72 (“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 life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct). Florida courts have also allowed for the recovery of punitive damages in various contexts, including by way of example, claims for fraud, fraudulent concealment, fraud in the inducement, and conversion.
In Florida state court (as opposed to Florida federal court) actions, the party seeking to assert a claim for punitive damages is required to initially file a motion to amend their pleading to assert such a claim. Fla. R.Civ. P. 1.190(f); Fla. Stat. § 768.72. That same party also has the burden to show, by evidence in the record, or evidence to be proffered, that there is a reasonable basis for the recovery of such damages. If these requirements are satisfied, a court will likely allow a claim for punitive damages to stand. Recovery on such a claim, however, will generally be dependent upon the evidence presented at trial.
Having the ability to recover punitive damages in a construction dispute can be a powerful tool for a litigant. The facts and circumstances of your particular case should be examined to determine if this punitive damages tool can be of use to you.