Punitive Damages in New Jersey
Most damages provided in personal injury lawsuits are awarded based on the injured party’s losses. They are generally designed to compensate the injury victim (plaintiff) for injuries suffered because of the at-fault party’s (defendant) actions.
However, punitive damages are different. These damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer for conduct that is dangerous or undesirable and prevent the defendant or others from engaging in similar conduct.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in cases in New Jersey, as they require that the defendant’s actions were outstandingly bad. An experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer will be able to review the details of your case and advise if your case meets the requirements for obtaining punitive damages. Schedule a free consultation today.
When Punitive Damages Are Awarded
Punitive damages are most often awarded when the defendant’s act was intentional or the defendant acted with a reckless disregard for the health and safety of others. Situations that may warrant punitive damages include:
- Circumstances where malice is shown
- Willful misconduct
- Specific intent to cause harm
- Situations where the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
You must specifically request to be awarded punitive damages in your complaint. The jury will determine whether punitive damages are appropriate based on the unique facts of your case. Every case and every jury are different, so the likelihood of obtaining punitive damages will vary a great deal.
Proving Punitive Damages
As a plaintiff, you must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant acted with either actual malice or a willful or reckless disregard for the harm that he or she may cause. This standard is higher than what you would have to prove to show liability in your case. It means there is no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions drawn from the evidence.
In considering whether to award punitive damages, the jury will typically consider the following factors.
- The degree of likelihood that serious harm was going to result from the defendant’s conduct
- Whether the defendant was aware that his or her actions would result in serious harm or whether the defendant had a reckless disregard for whether his or her actions would cause damage
- The duration of the activity
- Steps the defendant took to conceal his or her actions
- The action the defendant took upon learning that his or her actions would cause harm
- The financial condition of the defendant or the ability to pay a punitive damages award
Because of the requirement to be able to pay the punitive damage award, punitive damages are more likely to be imposed on corporate entities or wealthy individuals. Insurance companies are also common defendants that may end up paying punitive damages.
Caps on Punitive Damages
Awards for punitive damages are reserved for severe cases. The New Jersey Punitive Damages Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.9, allows punitive damages to be awarded at an amount up to five times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $350,000, whichever is greater. Punitive damage awards may not be available in every type of case, however.
This cap may not apply in cases that deal with public policy or social concerns. Your attorney will be able to tell you whether your situation meets this type of requirement to avoid the punitive damage cap.
Contact Our Personal Injury Lawyers
At Lynch Law Firm, PC, we have handling cases that involve punitive damage claims. We can evaluate your case to determine whether claiming punitive damages is appropriate and can give you a realistic assessment of your likelihood of success on that claim.
Contact our attorneys today to schedule a free, no obligation consultation to learn more. We do not collect a fee unless you win your case and obtain compensation, so there is nothing to lose.