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Third DCA Issues Opinion Regarding Independent Tort Doctrine and Punitive Damages
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Third DCA Issues Opinion Regarding Independent Tort Doctrine and Punitive Damages
December 2, 2022 at 5:00 AM
by Yolanda P. Strader

In Abad v. Lacalamita, Case No. 3D22-629 (Fla. 3d DCA Nov. 23, 2022), the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s order allowing a plaintiff to amend its complaint to add punitive damages based on the independent tort rule. A tenant filed suit against the owner of a condominium based on the owner’s alleged failure to maintain the leased unit. The tenant sought leave to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages. The proposed complaint included claims for breach of contract, violation of the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, and gross negligence, among other claims. The tenant sought punitive damages only for the claim of gross negligence. The Third DCA ruled that the tenant’s breach of contract claim and gross negligence claim were essentially the same. Florida prohibits the recovery of punitive damages for a breach of contract claim unless the claimant “has asserted a tort independent of the alleged breach of contract.” Citing TRG Desert Inn Venture, Ltd. v. Berezovsky, 194 So. 2d 516, 519 n. 3 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016). Thus, it is important to properly plead your claim to articulate if there are wrongful acts beyond a mere breach of the operative contract, whether the agreement is a lease, operating agreement, or some other contract. Be sure to consult with a lawyer to get advice on how to pursue a claim or defend your position.

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