Archive: October 2012

October 29, 2012

What Does the Term ‘Punitive Damage’ Mean?

If you are at all familiar with personal injury lawsuits you may have heard the term “punitive damages,” but may not fully grasp what it means. Punitive damages, which are also known as “exemplary damages,” are a type of damage award designed to, as the name implies, accomplish two ends: one, to punish the person or entity found guilty of wrongdoing and, two, to make an example of the defendant and deter that person or entity, or others like them, from engaging in similarly wrongful conduct in the future.jacksonville personal injury law

Punitive damages are only warranted in a particular subset of successful personal injury lawsuits. In order for a court to permit an award of punitive damages, it must first conclude that the defendant’s behavior was particularly outrageous or reckless.

For example, in auto accident cases, punitive damages may enter the equation if the case establishes that the defendant: is charged (or could be charged) with manslaughter related to the accident, was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident, did not stop at the scene of the accident (hit-and-run,) was driving at a reckless rate of speed, was engaged in criminal activity at the time of the accident, or knowingly failed to maintain his or her vehicle in a safe condition.  In medical malpractice cases, punitive damages may only enter the picture if the patient proves that the health care provider intended to inflict serious harm to the patient. In product liability cases, the injured person must show that the defendant’s willful, wanton or reckless behavior caused the injuries at issue.

The amount punitive damages will fluctuate based upon the specifics of each case. A defendant’s especially outrageous or malicious action would likely trigger a larger punitive damages award. The amount of punitive damages awarded in similar cases previously decided would figure in as well. Also, in deciding punitive damages, juries may look at the defendant’s net worth (which is not admissible in compensatory damages considerations).

However, Florida does place certain restrictions on punitive damages. Florida courts recently ruled that a punitive damages award so large that it would force the defendant into bankruptcy is not permissible. Additionally, Florida statutes limit punitive damages, in most cases, to the greater of either: (1) three times the compensatory damages award, or (2) $500,000.  However, if the fact finder (the jury, or the judge in a bench trial) concludes that the defendant’s motivation was strictly “unreasonable financial gain,” and the defendant (or certain agents, in the case of corporations) knew of the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct or extremely high risk of injury, then the cap jumps to the greater of four times the compensatory award, or $2 million. If the fact finder concludes that the defendant specifically intended to harm the plaintiff, the Florida Statutes place no cap at all on punitive damages.

The type, and amount, of damages you may be entitled to in a personal injury case can seem complicated and confusing. Our personal injury attorneys are well-versed in all types of awards and experienced at pursuing all damages owed to injured people. Please call for a free, no obligation consultation to discuss your injury case.

October 29, 2012

My Spouse Stopped Paying Child Support. What do I do?

Article By: William Dorsey
Contact Us With Your Divorce and Custody Law Questions.

Child support is intended to allow children to receive sufficient financial support to meet their basic living needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and healthcare, and to enjoy the wealth of both of their parents. The public policy in Florida strongly prioritizes children’s receipt of financial support from both parents. For that reason, Florida law has strict guidelines regarding child support, and takes a stern approach to nonpayment of child support.child suppport in Florida

In Florida, the amount of child support is set by following a mathematical formula that factors in both parents’ incomes and certain expenses (such as healthcare insurance premiums and daycare payments.)  Beyond just incomes and expenses, though, the formula also looks at the living situation of the children. If the non-primary custodial parent has the child overnight at least 20 percent of the time, that will trigger a reduction in the amount of child support.

A parent with a court-ordered support obligation may not alter or cease those payments absent a court order that permits the change. Florida law considers your child’s needs to be paramount, meaning that your ex’s obligation to support his or her child comes first. Even if your spouse has encountered financial hardship, whether from large new financial obligations (i.e. a major illness or accident,) a severe reduction of income (a job loss,) or the child’s living situation changes (the child begins living primarily with your spouse) your spouse may not simply stop paying child support or pay less than the full amount. In order to alter child support, you must ask a court to order a change. Florida law allows courts to modify child support if the parent with support obligation can prove that he or she has undergone a change in circumstances that is substantial, permanent and involuntary.

If your spouse is withholding child support, you should follow the appropriate legal channels to notify the authorities of your spouse’s failure to pay. Florida has several options for parents who do not pay child support, and the penalties are substantial. A parent who is derelict in paying child support may lose his or her passport and/or driver’s license, may have liens placed on property, have paychecks garnished or have bank accounts frozen.

One thing you should be certain not to do is withhold visitation rights. Regardless of your spouse’s improper actions, you should be certain to follow all court-ordered obligations you have under the terms of your divorce. The law considers the court orders regarding visitation and child custody to be independent obligations. Your failure to follow the court’s visitation order can be grounds for your being held in contempt of court regardless of whether or not your spouse is paying child support.

If you are facing a spouse who has stopped paying child support, you should consult with an attorney who is familiar with the law and the courts. Our Florida child support attorneys are experienced and knowledgeable about cases just like yours, so contact our office today to learn about your rights and options.


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October 24, 2012

In a Personal Injury Lawsuit — How Do I Pay for Legal Assistance?

Suffering an injury due to the negligence or misconduct of others can be stressful. In addition to managing the rest of your normal obligations, you also have to determine whether or not to sue the person or entity at fault. You know that you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but are concerned about how to pay for a lawyer to represent you.

Fortunately, your inability to pay a large retainer fee need not be a roadblock to your obtaining quality legal representation and pursue your rights to compensation.

The first step in the process of seeking compensation is scheduling an introductory meeting with a personal injury attorney. This meeting is often called an initial consultation, and typically, is free of charge. Here, you provide the details of your accident with the attorney. The attorney will review your information, evaluate your case to determine if the law in your state permits you to recover compensation, and assess, in his or her professional opinion, your likelihood of success.Personal Injury Attorney - Bill Dorsey

Choosing who will represent you in your personal injury lawsuit is both a very important, and very personal, decision. In order for your attorney to do the best possible job for you, you need retain someone with whom you feel comfortable being completely open and forthcoming. “Shop around” to make sure you find the right person, or firm, for you. As noted above, initial consultations are usually free, so they cost you only time.

Once you select an attorney, and he or she agrees to take the case, most attorneys will provide the option of a contingency agreement. This means that you do not pay the attorney for his or her services up front, but rather that he or she receives a percentage of the total recover you win at trial (or through settlement.) The percentage the attorney receives may vary based upon when the case resolves, as the attorney will have performed various amounts of work at each different stage.   Typically, the attorney will recover the lowest percentage if the case settles before the lawsuit is filed, a higher percentage if the case settles after the lawsuit is filed but before trial, and a still higher one if the case goes all the way to a jury verdict.

What is always implicit, though, within the percentage-based contingency fee is that, if you recover nothing for your injuries, then the fee you owe your attorney is also nothing. This means that, regardless of your personal wealth or financial resources, you can retain quality legal assistance. If you’ve been injured, contact our Jacksonville personal injury lawyers to schedule your initial consultation right away.

October 9, 2012

Lost Wages and Medical Expenses in Personal Injury Claim

Unfortunately, accidents are a part of life. Every day, people venture out… to work, to shops, and into vehicles. And every day, people suffer injuries due to the negligence, failures or misdeeds of others. In Florida, people injured in accidents that occur through the negligence or fault of others can often recover their lost wages and medical expenses. How the process of recovering these losses works, however, varies significantly based on the nature of your accident.Missing work from injury

Damage Basics

Generally speaking, a person injured may recover lost wages, medical bills and expenses, the cost of future medical care related to the injury, damage to his or her property related to the incident, other expenses not covered by insurance, and damages for pain and suffering.

Florida has specific rules, though, regarding personal injuries arising from auto accidents. In most cases, under Florida’s “no fault” law, if you sustain injuries in an auto accident within the state, your auto insurance provider, through your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, bears the responsibility to pay most of your lost wages and medical bills; specifically, 60% of your lost wages and 80% of your medical bills. PIP is a mandatory coverage in the State of Florida. Florida does, however, allow drivers to elect to exclude wage loss reimbursement from their PIP coverage. Whatever portion of the lost wages that the insurer does not pay can be included in that person’s personal injury action against the at-fault driver.

Keep Your Bills

Regardless of whether you were injured in car accident, at work, or in a slip-and-fall, some helpful hints are universal. The chief among these is always to maintain meticulous records of everything related to your accident. This means that, when it comes to your medical bills, you should retain, in a single safe place, copies of any bill related to your injuries. These would include not only bills from doctors and hospitals, but bills for prescriptions, costs of over-the-counter medicines, bills for therapy, bills from medical labs for tests run on you, and so forth. Additionally, medical equipment counts, too. Be sure to keep your receipts for things like crutches, slings, or wheelchairs.

This record keeping task also applies to your missed work. You should maintain written records of the time you were away from work because of your injuries. Any time you miss from work, including sick leave, is something you should record. Also, if you receive a written opinion from your doctor regarding when you will be medically cleared to return to work, keep that with these records, as well.

Between working, driving, shopping, and the many other tasks that take us out of our homes, each of us faces a nearly daily risk of injury at the hands of others. If you suffer injury because of someone else’s negligence or mistake, it is important to work with an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can help you weigh settlement versus going to court, and serve as your guide throughout the process, to ensure you get all the compensation owed to you.

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