Punitive Damages

If you are injured because of someone else’s negligence, you may have a right to recover compensation for the damages you sustained.

In some cases, you might even be able to recover punitive damages, which send a message to defendants who have acted particularly recklessly in causing you harm. 

An experienced personal injury lawyer can review your case and determine the damages you may be entitled to. 

Types of Damages Awarded in New Jersey Personal Injury Cases

Types of Damages Awarded in New Jersey Personal Injury Cases

There are various types of damages that are awarded in New Jersey personal injury cases

These include:

Economic Damages 

Economic damages are tied to a direct financial loss, such as:

  • Medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Property damage

Bills, invoices, and repair estimates can help establish the value of economic damages. 

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are not directly tied to a financial loss. Instead, these damages acknowledge that people suffer losses that cannot easily be quantified. These losses include pain and suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress. 

Punitive Damages

Economic and non-economic damages are intended to compensate the victim and return them to their position before the accident. Punitive damages are different. 

Punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar conduct in the future. Economic and non-economic damages are often awarded in personal injury cases. However, this is not the case with punitive damages, which are reserved for certain situations. 

When Punitive Damages Are Awarded 

The court can award punitive damages in appropriate cases. New Jersey allows for the award of punitive damages in cases involving actual malice or wanton and willful disregard for the safety of others. 

Actual malice is defined under New Jersey law as an “intentional wrongdoing in the sense of an evil-minded act.” Wanton and willful disregard is a “deliberate act or omission with knowledge of a high degree of probability of harm to another and reckless indifference to the consequences.”

These cases involve intentional or dangerous behavior that the defendant undertakes without concern for the safety of others, such as road rage or hit and run incidents. 

Requirements to Obtain Punitive Damages In New Jersey

There are a number of procedural and substantive requirements you must meet before you can obtain punitive damages, including:

Requesting Damages in Your Complaint 

You must ask for punitive damages in your complaint, which sets out the factual allegations of the case and demands compensation for the harm you suffered. An experienced personal injury attorney can ensure that your complaint contains all the necessary information to preserve your right to seek punitive damages. 

Recovering Damages In Your Case

Punitive damages will only be awarded in cases in which you have been awarded compensatory damages. Being awarded nominal damages is not sufficient. 

Having a Bifurcated Trial

Your trial for an award of punitive damages must be separate from the trial proving liability. Only after you prove the defendant is responsible for your injuries can you present evidence of their malice or willful and wanton conduct. 

Proving Your Right By Clear And Convincing Evidence 

To prove your right to punitive damages, you must present proof by clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher standard to meet than proving the rest of your claim. A successful personal injury claim requires proof by the preponderance of the evidence or that the facts are more likely than not, as you allege. Clear and convincing evidence requires you present sufficient evidence to establish it is highly likely that your claims are true. 

Showing the Award Is Reasonable 

Before the judge enters a judgment for punitive damages, they must review the award and determine whether it is reasonable and justified. The judge has the right to eliminate or reduce the award if the court determines punitive damages are not appropriate.

Determining the Value of Punitive Damages in New Jersey Cases

The judge or jury determines whether to award punitive damages and in what amount. 

Several factors are considered when determining whether to award punitive damages, including:

  • The likelihood that the defendant’s conduct would cause you serious harm
  • The defendant’s awareness that their action could lead to serious harm
  • How the defendant acted once they became aware of the threat of serious harm
  • How long the defendant’s actions continued
  • When the defendant’s behavior stopped
  • Whether the defendant profited from their behavior
  • Whether the defendant covered up their actions
  • The defendant’s financial situation 

New Jersey also imposes a cap on punitive damages awards. This is $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. The judge cannot inform the jury of this cap. 

Contact a Frehold Personal Injury Lawyer for Help with Punitive Damages 

Punitive damages can be complex and are not awarded in most cases. If you may be eligible for punitive damages, it is important you work with a skilled personal injury lawyer. Doing so can help preserve your rights. Contact us at Noonan Personal Injury Lawyers, LLC at (732) 303 7857 for a free case review with a Freehold personal injury lawyer.