The Florida Supreme Court has accepted a proposed rule change to allow interlocutory appeals from court orders on punitive damages claims. On January 6, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court approved by 6-1 an amendment to Florida Appellate Procedural Rule 9.130 to permit interlocutory appeals from non-final orders granting or denying leave to amend a claim for assert a claim for punitive damages. Prior to this amendment, a party could only appeal such an order by seeking a writ of certiorari. And in this stance, the appellate court’s review was limited only to whether the trial court had complied with the procedural requirements to make such a request.
In practical terms, this means that Florida courts of appeals will be able to immediately review trial court orders regarding claims for punitive damages on both proceedings. and background patterns. With this amendment, the merits of a plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages can now be appealed before any discovery of a defendant’s financial information. The new rule comes into effect on April 1, 2022.
The Florida Defense Lawyers Association (FDLA) supported the amendment to the rule, considering it an important step toward preserving the confidentiality of a defendant’s financial information that is protected by the Florida Constitution. Previously, a defendant had to wait until final judgment was rendered to appeal the merits of a plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages – by then, a defendant’s private financial information might already have made the object of discovery. Now, such a finding can rightly be withheld until the interlocutory appeal is decided. In addition, FDLA acknowledged that the rule change would add teeth to Florida’s mandate that a plaintiff make a reasonable showing by evidence on the record or an offer that provides a reasonable basis for punitive damages (see Section 768.72, Florida Statutes). Under the new rule, a defendant has an earlier opportunity to test the sufficiency of the evidence or offer submitted by a plaintiff.
Other commentators expressed concern that the amendment would increase case delays and appeals workload. In his dissent, Judge Jorge Labarga said it was reasonable to anticipate delays in civil cases with claims for punitive damages, which could lead some plaintiffs to “reluctantly waive well-founded claims for damages- punitive interests”. He also said he was concerned about the increase in the caseload of the Court of Appeal.
The Florida Justice Association shared similar concerns in its commentary on the proposed amendment. He felt that the amendment was a solution without a corresponding problem – that the existing requirements for asserting a claim for punitive damages and the existing remedies for the review of such a claim are sufficient. He also cited protective orders as an appropriate measure to keep a defendant’s financial information confidential.
None of these concerns gained traction. Accordingly, effective April 1, 2022, Florida litigants will have the right to seek an immediate appellate review of a trial court’s order granting or denying a claim for punitive damages against a defendant.