nj punitive damages act

When someone hurts you, filing a lawsuit feels like a poor substitute for justice. Winning compensation can’t turn back time and repair your injuries.

But demanding compensation serves other purposes. It ensures you don’t bear the financial brunt of another person’s actions. It’s also a way to hold accountable someone who did something wrong. Punitive damages in New Jersey are a way to punish someone for malicious or particularly egregious behavior.

If you’re wondering about NJ punitive damages, reach out to our personal injury attorneys at O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble through our online form or by calling (908) 928-9200.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are meant to punish someone for their terrible, harmful behavior.

There are two broad categories of damages in a personal injury case: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages include your economic and non-economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. They repay you for the harm the defendant caused you.

Punitive damages in New Jersey are not about your injuries. Instead, they’re about the wrongdoer’s actions. In limited circumstances, a court will award punitive damages to punish the defendant for their egregious actions and to discourage this person and others from behaving that way in the future.

How Can I Win Punitive Damages in New Jersey?

Punitive damages are rare because the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act strictly limits when they are allowed.

Ask for Punitive Damages Immediately

You have to “pray for” punitive damages in the complaint. That means that when you sue the other party, you have to specifically ask for punitive damages in the initial paperwork. This requirement is a good example of why it’s helpful to consult an attorney before filing a lawsuit.

Provide Clear and Convincing Evidence

You have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions (or failure to act):

  • Were based on actual malice; or
  • Displayed a wanton and willful disregard for other people. 

The good news is that clear and convincing evidence is a lower burden than proving something beyond a reasonable doubt. You have to offer enough evidence to show that it’s highly likely your claims are true.  

Prove Malice or Willful and Wanton Disregard

The law defines actual malice as “intentional wrongdoing in the sense of an evil-minded act.”

A wanton and willful disregard is a deliberate act done while knowing there’s a high probability of harm to someone else and reckless indifference to the consequences of that act.  

The law specifically says you can’t win punitive damages by proving negligence or gross negligence. That’s because the defendant’s behavior has to be more than careless or reckless for punitive damages to be appropriate.

Who Decides if I Get Punitive Damages?

The judge or jury—whoever decides your case—determines whether you’re entitled to punitive damages. They’ll consider several factors, including:

  • The likelihood that the defendant’s conduct would cause serious harm;
  • The defendant’s awareness of their disregard for the likelihood of serious injury;
  • The defendant’s conduct once they learned their initial act would likely cause harm; and
  • How long the defendant’s actions lasted or how long they covered up their actions.

If the judge or jury agrees you should receive punitive damages, they also decide the amount of the damages.

What Are My Punitive Damages Worth?

The judge or jury can consider many factors when awarding punitive damages, including when the defendant’s behavior stopped, whether the defendant profited from their behavior, and the defendant’s finances.

The court must make sure the punitive damages award is reasonable and justified based on the circumstances.

There’s also a specific limit to punitive damages in New Jersey. No one can be liable for punitive damages that exceed five times their compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is greater.

When the jury decides punitive damages, the jurors aren’t aware of the cap. They can settle on any amount. However, the judge can eliminate or reduce the award if they believe the amount wasn’t reasonable or justified, or if the amount is higher than the statutory limit.

Reach Out to Our NJ Personal Injury Lawyers

You may want to ask for punitive damages after someone hurts you. Whether it was a car accident, slip and fall, medical malpractice, a defective product, or something else, we’re here to help. Call O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble at (908) 928-9200 or contact us online.

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