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Florida Fifth DCA orders new trial on punitive damages in wrongful death case because of trial court's failure to give standard jury instruction on defendant's financial means

On May 19, 2017, in Persaud v. Cortes, No. 5D16-863, the Florida Fifth DCA reversed the trial court and ordered a new trial on punitive damages in an automobile negligence wrongful death case. The basis for the Fifth DCA’s decision was the trial court’s refusal to read a portion of the Florida Standard Jury Instruction 503.1, providing that the jury “may not award an amount that would financially destroy” the defendants. The Fifth DCA acknowledged that the usage note to the instruction indicates that “it appears that this instruction can only be used when evidence of the defendant’s net worth has been introduced,” but determined that the testimony of the defendant’s mother, who generally discussed his lack of assets and employment, was sufficient for this purpose.