Florida Supreme Court Adopts Rule Change to Allow Immediate Appeals on Claims for Punitive Damages
Recently, in a 6-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court amended Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130 to authorize interlocutory appeals of nonfinal orders granting or denying motions for leave to assert claims for punitive damages. Under Florida law, plaintiffs may not allege punitive damages without leave of court, and the granting or denying of a motion for leave to assert punitive damages has a dramatic impact on the conduct of litigation and a draconian impact on a party subject to a punitive damage claim. Not only do punitive damages allegations expose defendants to potentially higher verdict ranges, they also open the door to invasive financial discovery.
Prior to this amendment, parties could only appeal such nonfinal orders by petitioning for a writ of certiorari. Even if certiorari was granted, the appellate court’s scope of review was limited to the procedural sufficiency of the lower court’s ruling. The appeal could not challenge the propriety of the claim or sufficiency of the evidence under the facts of the case. Effective April 1, 2022, the amended rule will empower parties to compel immediate and substantive appellate review of procedural compliance and the sufficiency of evidence presented in support of a punitive damages claim. As stated by the Florida Defense Lawyers Association, this new amendment will protect the constitutional rights of defendants by ensuring that defendants are not improperly subjected to such discovery.
It can be expected that this amendment will dissuade plaintiffs from attempting to plead unsubstantiated punitive damages claims or attempt to raise such claims in ordinary negligence claims. Prior to this welcome new rule, Plaintiffs and their counsel were unconstrained in seeking punitive damages. In addition to the time and delays for the litigants, interlocutory appeals create risk of reversal, thereby incentivizing trial judges to conduct a thorough review of the evidentiary record before authorizing punitive damage claims.
This amendment represents a necessary, prudent and welcome shift in Florida jurisprudence. It serves to protect defendants from frivolous punitive damages claims by creating a right to substantive and immediate review.
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To see the amendment in full, click here.