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Fifth District Court of Appeal articulates standards for resolution of motions to amend complaint to add punitive damages claim

On February 10, 2017, in Varnedore v. Copeland, No. 5D16-1879, the 5th DCA granted a defendant's writ of certiorari and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings to correct errors in the handling of the plaintiff's motion to amend the medical negligence complaint to include a punitive damages claim. A party wishing to pursue punitive damages must first file a motion seeking leave of court to file an amended complaint and then make “a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. See Fla. Stat. § 768.72(1) and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.190(f). In this case, the plaintiff made the requisite motion, but failed to include a copy of the proposed amendment with the motion. Although the plaintiff did provide a copy of the proposed amendment complaint during the subsequent hearing on the motion, the 5th DCA opined that it was "patently unfair" for the plaintiff to withhold the amended complaint from the defendant until the hearing, and laid most of the blame for the confusion in the record of the case on plaintiff's failure. The 5th DCA articulated a bright line rule, stating that "filing the proposed amended complaint with the motion to amend is an essential legal requirement of moving to amend to add claims for punitive damages." The 5th DCA also noted that during the motion hearing the trial court had relied on inappropriate oral proffers from plaintiff's counsel as to the evidence in the case, noting that any supporting evidence or proffer had to be served on the defense at least 20 days before the hearing under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.190(f). The Court specifically found that the term "proffer" for the purpose of Rule 1.190(f) "refers only to timely filed documents and excludes oral representations of additional evidence made during the hearing."

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