Understanding How Punitive Damages Work in a Personal Injury Case

June 12, 2023
by We can Help Law

Punitive Damages Are Awarded to Punish the Defendant for Their Wrongful Actions and to Deter Similar Behavior in the Future

Understanding How Punitive Damages Work in a Personal Injury Case in Monmouth County, NJ

There are two kinds of damages in a personal injury case.  Compensatory damages repay the plaintiff for medical bills, physical rehabilitation, lost wages, future wages, loss of consortium, and material loss.  Punitive damages may be given in combination with compensatory damages.  They are used as punishment when the plaintiff’s harmful actions cause injury or another’s wrongful death.  They are a way to punish the plaintiff for acting egregiously and disregarding the health and safety of others.  The perpetrator is required to pay an amount in addition to compensatory damages as a deterrent from behaving similarly in the future.  The stipulations to award punitive damages vary from state to state, and New Jersey places a limit on these types of damages. On average, the courts grant conservative amounts. However, the amount awarded may be more significant if the damage is excessive.

At What Point Are Punitive Damages Granted in NJ?

Punitive damages are awarded for various reasons.  They serve to punish a defendant for their actions toward the plaintiff.  For example, if a person drove 20 miles per hour over the speed limit in a school zone and struck a group of children crossing the road, the driver may be forced to pay punitive damages to the affected families.  Punitive damages can also be awarded to deter the defendant from acting similarly again.  As a form of specific deterrence, the person must pay damages to prevent them from making another wrong choice.  For example, suppose a drunk driver severely injured several people in an accident, and this was one of the various occasions they had been drinking and driving. In that case, the judge or jury may want to use punitive damages to send a message to the driver that this kind of behavior must not repeat itself.

Thirdly, punitive damages are awarded as a general deterrence, a warning to others from engaging in the same behavior as the defendant.  For example, a high school knows a teacher who had acted inappropriately with students. Instead of terminating the teacher, the school board moved them to another district in a clandestine manner.  Additionally, punitive damages may be sought for wanton or malicious behavior.  Malicious intent, fraud, or specific intent to hurt someone are also included.

Ways to Prove The Need For Punitive Damages

The need for punitive damages can be proven in several ways.  If the defendant acts in the future in a way that could cause serious harm, a deterrent is necessary.  When the defendant showed wanton and negligent regard and was aware that their behavior could cause severe injury or when they hid their actions, there was a need for punitive measures.  If the defendant seemed unbothered by the damage caused when they learned the consequences of their actions, a penalty is in order.  Punitive damages can be applied when the defendant’s actions were willful, malicious, oppressive, fraudulent, or reckless. 

The Role of Judges and Juries When Awarding Punitive Damages

A judge or a jury will carefully listen to all of the testimony to decide whether to award the punitive damages requested by the plaintiff.  They can also determine the amount of damages to be paid.  They will consider the seriousness of the defendant’s actions, the damages caused, how long the behavior continued, whether the defendant benefited from their actions, and their financial capability.  Judges and juries have a penchant for scrupulous examination of all of the facts to avoid frivolous suits, so the evidence must be on point.

Maximum Award for Punitive Damages in New Jersey Injury Claims

Punitive damages cannot exceed $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is more.  Compensatory damages are broken down into two types: economic and non-economic damages. Monetary damages are assessed to make the injured person whole again.  These damages include but are not limited to doctor’s fees, hospitalization, treatments such as surgeries or medications, tests, radiological scans, rehabilitation treatments, copays, medical equipment such as crutches, canes, or wheelchairs, and lost wages.  If the injury is debilitating, future lost wages and lost earning potential could also be included, as well as a full or part-time caregiver if necessary.

The Personal Injury Lawyers at Our Firm Will Help You Prove the Need for Punitive Damages in NJ

Non-economic damages refer to the intangible ways the victim’s life has been affected.  They are a form of compensation that attests to the other losses the victim has experienced because of their injury.  These include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life (depression, PTSD, etc.), disfigurement, mental anguish, and loss of consortium or companionship.  The amount awarded under this category is based on the severity of the injury, its future repercussions in terms of quality of life, the age of the injured party, and the possible duration of their recovery.

Wrongful death lawsuits also include punitive and compensatory damages.  In this case, the economic damages would be funeral and burial costs, hospital bills, loss of financial support (calculated based on age and average possible income of the deceased), and any material losses due to an accident, such as a car or other property.  Non-economic damages are usually loss of companionship, loss of care, guidance, emotional support, and mental anguish.

Get Experienced Guidance from our Asbury Park Punitive Damages Injury Lawyers

Seeking punitive damages is a complicated endeavor.  The burden of proof is to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the accused acted in a way that flouted legal boundaries.  It is a standard above what is needed in liability cases but below what is required for criminal ones.

The lawyers at our firm have extensive experience in many types of personal injury law that has led to several positive outcomes and awards for punitive and compensatory damages in Mantoloking, Sea Bright, Colts Neck, Freehold, Deal, Barnegat, Lacey, Middletown, Wall, Tinton Falls, Jackson, and other Ocean and Monmouth County communities.  Our goal is to give you the opportunity to live a full life after having experienced a tragic accident.  We work under a contingency fee, so you won’t have to worry about further financial struggles during your case.

If you have been injured or suffered a loss due to an accident caused by someone’s intentional malice or wanton disregard for safety, call us today at (732) 303-7857 or contact us online. We can seek justice for you and provide a free case review.