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Florida Fifth DCA rules that trial court erred by granting plaintiff’s motion to add punitive damages claim to complaint without expressly stating on record that plaintiff made a reasonable showing by evidence for recovering such damages

On December 10, 2021, in Kovacs v. Williams, No. 5D21-1099, the Florida Fifth DCA quashed a trial court’s order granting a plaintiff’s motion to add a claim for punitive damages in a motor vehicle negligence case based on the alleged intoxication of the defendant driver. The trial court had granted the motion without stating on the record that the plaintiff made a “reasonable showing by evidence” which would provide a “reasonable basis for recovering such damages”, as required by Fla. Stat, 768.72(1). The Fifth DCA concluded that its own previous ruling in Varnedore v. Copeland, 210 So. 3d 741, 747–48 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017), as well as decisions from the Second, Third, and Fourth DCA, compelled the result. However, the Fifth DCA noted that“[I]f we were writing on a blank slate, we would disagree with Petitioner, since there is no operative statute or rule requiring the trial court to make an affirmative finding.” The Fifth DCA certified conflict with the First DCA’s decision in Watt v. Lo, 302 So. 3d 1021,1023 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020), wherein the First DCA held that there is no statutory requirement for the trial court to make express or affirmative findings when determining whether a reasonable evidentiary basis for recovery of punitive damages exists.