The Florida Supreme Court issued this opinion yesterday, addressing a question that often arises in California punitive damages litigation.  The case involved a punitive damages award in a wrongful death case.  The $16 million award was more than 106 times greater than the compensatory damages recovered by the plaintiffs, who were the statutory heirs of the decedent.  The Florida intermediate appellate court found the award was excessive, but the plaintiffs sought Supreme Court review, arguing that the award should be compared not to the magnitude of their loss, but to the loss suffered by the decedent, i.e., the value of the decedent’s life.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument, agreeing with the intermediate appellate court and ruling that, for purposes of excessiveness analysis, a reviewing court should compare a wrongful death punitive damages award only to the compensatory damages recovered by the plaintiff, not to the harm suffered by the decedent.