Awarding Punitive Damages in New Jersey Personal Injury Cases

November 18, 2013

Punitive damages are those damages that are meant to punish the defendant.  They are given in addition to damages that compensate the plaintiff for medical bills, loss of income, or pain and suffering.  There is no limit on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.  For example, a jury recently awarded the family of a paralyzed seven-year-old girl $75 million from a beer vending company at Giants Stadium for over serving a customer whose drunk driving caused the girl’s injuries.

While such high punitive damages awards are highly publicized, they are rarely awarded in the average personal injury case.  This is because there are difficult requirements for an entitlement of a punitive damage award.  The plaintiff must prove each of the following three requirements:

  1. The injury was caused by the defendant’s action or failure to act.  The evidence must clearly establish that the defendant was responsible for the adverse event.
  2. The adverse event caused the plaintiff’s actual injuries.  The plaintiff must have incurred medical expenses and other costs, loss of income, and pain and suffering.
  3. The defendant acted with wanton disregard or malice towards the injured party.

The third requirement is where most personal injury cases, which typically involve simple negligence, fail.  While, as seen in the above example, it is sometimes possible to prove wanton disregard or recklessness, it is extremely difficult to prove that a business acted with malice or intentionally caused injury to a consumer.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact Randolph H. Wolf today.

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