Punitive Damages in New Jersey

There are two main types of damages in personal injury lawsuits: economic damages (i.e., tangible losses such as property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, etc.) and non-economic damages (i.e., intangible losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, etc.). However, there are some cases in which a plaintiff may recover additional compensation in the form of “punitive damages.” 

In New Jersey, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for intentionally harming the plaintiff or acting in such a high level of reckless disregard for others that it constitutes as willful and wanton. Additionally, they are also meant to deter the defendant and others from acting in a similar manner. 

The following are several situations where punitive damages may be awarded: 

  • The existence of malice behind the act 

  • The intent to cause harm 

  • Willful misconduct 

  • Wantonness 

  • Fraud 

  • When a defendant is heavily intoxicated by alcohol or drugs 

  • Oppression 

The New Jersey Punitive Damages Act sets forth whether a defendant’s actions justify awarding punitive damages. Since there is a higher threshold to meet in order to obtain punitive damages compared to proving liability, such losses are rarely awarded in the state.  

Under NJ law, a plaintiff will be awarded punitive damages if they can prove “by clear and convincing evidence” all the following factors: 

  • The likelihood that the defendant’s conduct will lead to serious harm 

  • The defendant was aware that his/her actions were going to cause serious harm or he/she had reckless disregard for whether his/her actions would result in such harm 

  • How long the activity lasted 

  • The steps the defendant took to hide his/her actions 

  • The action the defendant took once he/she learned that his/her actions would lead to harm 

  • The defendant’s financial status or his/her ability to pay punitive damages 

One situation which justifies punitive damages is an assault because a person hitting someone else is enough clear and convincing evidence of actual malice due to the individual’s intention to harm another. Another example would be fraud because a person intentionally misrepresents something or makes a false statement with the intention to cause another person to enter an agreement or otherwise act a certain way. 

When it comes to drunk and/or drugged driving cases, if a driver has a history of DUI convictions or labeled a habitual drunk driver, a victim suffered serious injury or died, witnesses observed the driver’s intoxicated behavior, and the driver attempted to flee the scene, then punitive damages may be awarded. The act must be so egregious that causing serious harm is highly likely. 

There is a cap on punitive damages in New Jersey. According to the Act, punitive damages may equal to five times the amount of compensatory damages award or $350,000, whichever is greater. 

If you have been injured in an accident caused by another person’s gross negligence or intentional actions, contact our Woodbridge legal team at Palmisano & Goodman, P.A. today at (732) 709-4400 for a free initial consultation. We have secured millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements!