VISHNU D. PERSAUD, Appellant,
BARBARA CORTES, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JOSHUA BATISTA, AND ON BEHALF OF HIS SURVIVORS, ANDREW T. SANTIAGO AND NICHOLAS GAJRAJ, Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
from the Circuit Court for Marion County, Edward L. Scott,
C. Flowers, of Kubicki Draper, P.A., Ocala, for Appellant.
Kline, of Greenspoon Marder, P.A., and Alexander M. Clem, of
Morgan & Morgan, P.A., Orlando, for Appellees, Barbara
Cortes as Personal Representative of the Estate of Joshua
Batista and on behalf of his survivors, and Andrew T.
Appearance for Appellee, Nicholas Gajraj.
Vishnu D. Persaud, appeals the trial court's final
judgment awarding $1.25 million in punitive damages in favor
of Barbara Cortes, as personal representative of the estate
of Joshua Batista, and Andrew T. Santiago (collectively,
"Appellees"). Because the trial court abused its
discretion by failing to provide a requested jury
instruction, we reverse and remand for a new trial on
2009, Appellees filed a complaint against Persaud for
wrongful death and negligence. The claims stemmed from a
November 2008 accident in which Persaud's vehicle
rear-ended a vehicle operated by Santiago and occupied by
Joshua Batista, Cortes's son, causing it to strike a
third vehicle before flipping into an adjacent median. The
accident resulted in Batista's death, significant injury
to Santiago, and ultimately two convictions for DUI
manslaughter, for which the court sentenced Persaud to two
life sentences. Appellees later amended their complaint to
include a claim for punitive damages, alleging that, at the
time of the accident, Persaud had consumed a significant
amount of alcohol-resulting in a .302 percent blood alcohol
the compensatory phase of Persaud's bifurcated trial, the
jury awarded a verdict of $244, 419 for Cortes and $75,
144.35 for Santiago. The trial court then proceeded to the
punitive phase of the bifurcated trial, during which
Persaud's counsel notified the trial court about the
parties' competing requested jury instructions regarding
punitive damages. Appellees' counsel explained the
dispute as follows:
The difference is, Judge, the Defense would like to introduce
the idea of the lack of financial resources so that the jury
can't award an amount that would financially bankrupt or
destroy Persaud. However, that's the purpose for what
this language is allowed in. . . .
The Defense has offered nothing to show the net worth, or
lack thereof, of Mr. Persaud. So they don't get the
benefit of the bargain by arguing he's in jail, he
doesn't have to pay.
trial court stated that it would read the portion instructing
the jury that it should consider Persaud's
"financial resources, " then omit the portion
reading, "However, you may not award an amount that
would financially destroy the defendant." Fla. Std. Jury
Instr. (Civ.) 503.1(c)(2). After the discussion concluded,
Appellees' counsel responded, "Your Honor, just for
the record, we renew our objection to the implication of
Persaud's financial resources and instruction. But I
understand the Court's ruling."
mother later testified during the punitive damages phase of
the trial, with the expressly agreed-to purpose of discussing
the state of Persaud's financial resources. She testified
that she sees Persaud once a month and that he has no money,
no bank account, no property of any kind, and, as of 2008, no
employment, with no expectation of future employment. In a
2010 deposition, read into evidence, Persaud testified that,
from 2008 until the time of the deposition, he lived in his
mother's home. Despite this testimony, the jury
ultimately awarded punitive damages of $750, 000 (Cortes) and
$500, 000 (Santiago).
specifically argues the trial court abused its discretion by
refusing to read the following instruction about the award of
punitive damages: "[However, you may not award an amount
that would financially destroy (defendant(s)).]" Fla.
Std. Jury Instr. (Civ.) 503.1(c)(2). Below, Appellees
challenged the reading of both this instruction and the
instruction requiring the jury to consider Persaud's
financial resources on the basis that Persaud had no
intention of establishing his financial circumstances during
trial-as evidenced by the lack of relevant exhibits noticed
pretrial. Much of the discussion that followed during ...