In most Jacksonville personal injury cases, a plaintiff is limited to compensatory damages. However, in drunk driving cases, punitive damages may be requested. The issue of punitive damages is distinct from compensatory damages, and often the trial will be split into phases, so that this issue can be considered separately by the court. A recent Florida appellate case arose when the plaintiff was rear-ended by one of the defendants. The defendant driver was drunk at the time of the collision. The plaintiff sued both him and his employer for negligence. He asked for punitive damages against the driver because he was intoxicated when the crash happened.
Prior to trial, the employer stipulated that its driver was liable for causing the crash and that it was vicariously liable. It also agreed that if the jury awarded the plaintiff compensatory damages, the plaintiff would also be entitled to punitive damages. It moved to bifurcate the trial to exclude evidence that the driver was drunk while the jury determined whether to award compensatory damages. The trial was bifurcated, but the court didn’t exclude proof of intoxication while compensatory damages were being considered.
The plaintiff talked about the defendant driver’s intoxication upon opening and closing. He also submitted evidence to that effect. However, he also told the jury this information wasn’t relevant to deciding compensatory damages. The lower court instructed the jury that the defendant driver was impaired by alcohol and revealed to them his blood alcohol level, which was far higher than the legal limit.