What Are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

By Greg Kohn

New Jersey personal injury victims are entitled to compensation for their injuries from at-fault parties. 

With help from an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney, victims can file a personal injury lawsuit to pursue economic and punitive damages.  

Economic damages are based on the injured party’s losses and are intended to compensate the victim for the injuries suffered, but what are punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit?

Let’s take a look below.

Punitive Damages in New Jersey Personal Injury Lawsuits

Punitive damages exist to punish wrongdoers for willful misconduct and deter wrongdoers from similar actions in the future. New Jersey courts do not dispense punitive damages lightly, but rather only in circumstances of egregious misconduct on behalf of the at-fault party. 

Grounds for Punitive Damages 

Because punitive damages are awarded in cases of the most egregious misconduct, plaintiffs must prove the defendant intentionally acted maliciously or with willful disregard against others’ health and safety.

Grounds for punitive damage award include:

  • Fraud
  • Oppression
  • Wantonness
  • Intent to harm
  • Cases involving a defendant under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Cases with evident malice
  • Cases with of wilful misconduct

Punitive damages are not automatically awarded even when the above circumstances are evident. Plaintiffs must specifically request punitive damages in their personal injury claim.

Proving a Case for Punitive Damages in New Jersey Courts

When seeking punitive damages as part of a personal injury lawsuit, victims and their personal injury lawyers must be prepared to present clear and convincing evidence that the harm or injury suffered by the victim was a direct result of the defendant’s wanton or wilful misconduct or omissions.

Additional factors influencing the jury’s decision include:

  • Whether the defendant was aware that his or her actions would result in serious harm or did the defendant have a reckless disregard for whether his or her actions would cause damage
  • The degree of likelihood that serious harm was going to result from the defendant’s conduct
  • The actions taken by the defendant upon learning that his or her actions would cause harm
  • The duration of the activity
  • Steps the defendant took to conceal his or her actions
  • The ability of the defendant to pay a punitive damages award or the financial condition of the defendant

The evidence presented must leave no substantial doubt as to the guilt of the defendant. The preponderance of evidence standard is exceptionally high in punitive damage actions. 

What Limit Does New Jersey Put on Punitive Damage Awards?

A punitive damage trial takes place only after an economic damages trial and will only occur if economic damages were awarded. 

Although juries are not to be informed of the cap on punitive damages, New Jersey courts limit the award of punitive damages to the greater of five times the amount of economic damages or $350,000. 

There are some cases where punitive damages caps do not apply. Cases involving public policy or social concerns are exempt from punitive damage caps. 

Consult a New Jersey and New York Personal Injury Attorney about Your Punitive Damage Case

Seeking punitive damages is a complicated process apart from other aspects of personal injury lawsuits. 

If you are considering a claim for punitive damages in your personal injury lawsuit, you need the help of an experienced and highly qualified New Jersey personal injury lawyer.

Contact our legal team today for a comprehensive assessment of your case and the viability of pursuing punitive damages. 

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.