Punitive Damages Are Rare in New Jersey Cases
New Jersey law allows you to receive punitive damages of up to five times your compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is greater. However, you should know that these damages being mandated in a New Jersey lawsuit is an extraordinary measure that is rarely taken. The state sets a very high bar when it comes to deciding what conduct qualifies for this punishment.
Punitive Damages Are Meant to Send a Message
In order to understand how often punitive damages are assessed in a personal injury case, it is important to know why they are ordered. A jury will assign these damages to send a message that a defendant’s conduct is shocking and beyond the pale of what is acceptable. The word punitive means that these damages are more to send a message to the defendant than to reward the plaintiff. Nonetheless, the plaintiff benefits from these damages since they greatly inflate the size of his or her jury award. However, your takeaway should be that punitive damages are very rare.
In a personal injury case, you would need to prove that the defendant did something really bad to deserve punitive damages. Most personal injury cases involve negligence claims. This means that the plaintiff is trying to show that the defendant acted unreasonably or simply failed to act when he or she had an obligation to do so. It is rare that the defendant did something so bad that would warrant these unless your case involves intentional action or gross negligence. You would be more likely to receive these damages for a breach of contract case or another business tort case.
The Nationwide Number of Awards Are Low
Nonetheless, there are cases in which personal injury plaintiffs can recover punitive damages. Nationwide, the Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates that 6% of plaintiffs will receive these damages as part of their cases. This shows exactly how rare they are. However, those statistics do not tell the entire story.
Whether you have a good chance of recovering punitive damages depends on the law of the state in which you have filed the claim. Some states try to make it harder for plaintiffs to recover these damages since they are intentionally hostile to the interests of plaintiffs. New Jersey tends to be one of the more restrictive states in terms of awarding punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit. New Jersey limits both the amount of these damages that you can recover and the circumstances in which you can be awarded them. This means that the answer to the question of how often these damages are awarded in New Jersey is “rarely.”
Most New Jersey Cases Do Not Allow Punitive Damages
New Jersey law will not allow punitive damages in most personal injury cases. The state even restricts them in many business tort cases. The state excludes these damages in personal injury cases involving negligence and gross negligence. These constitute the overwhelming majority of personal injury cases in New Jersey.
There are still circumstances in which you could prove that you deserve punitive damages. In New Jersey, the law allows these in some cases. Specifically, you would need to show that the defendant engaged in intentional misconduct or acted with reckless indifference to the fact that you may get hurt. One type of case that would support these damages is when you are filing a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver. In that case, someone would have gotten behind the wheel drunk. You may even be able to prove that an employer should pay these damages when it took actions that intentionally or recklessly put people in harm’s way, such as forcing individuals to work during a pandemic when they exhibited symptoms of feeling unwell.
There is nothing that says that you and your personal injury attorney cannot request punitive damages. However, you should have realistic expectations when it comes to the chances of you receiving them.
To learn more about whether punitive damages are possible in your lawsuit, contact a personal injury attorney at the practice of RAM Law. You can reach us in New Brunswick at (732) 247-3600, Somerville at (908) 448-2560, or Freehold at (732) 828-2234.