Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages for Your Injury Claim?
It’s bad enough to suffer injuries in an accident of any type. However, it’s even worse when you suspect the harm was deliberate. In the back of your mind, you want to see someone punished for hurting you. Is there such a remedy in civil court? Could you be entitled to punitive damages for your injury claim?
All things considered, you may not even know what punitive damages means. When you pursue a personal injury lawsuit, you are seeking damages. The word damages alone refers to the total monetary amount awarded at the end of the case. Notwithstanding, most claims do not warrant awards for punitive damages. Punitive translates to punishment. A punitive damage award is intended to punish the culpable party and discourage further bad conduct.
Considerations for Punitive Damages
No question that accidental injuries are both painful and inconveniencing. Unfortunately, for many, they can be life changing. Notwithstanding, negligence doesn’t necessarily mean intentional harm. By the same token, other actions warrant a request for punitive damages. In fact, NJSA 2A:15-5.10 contains definitions of terminology used in conjunction with punitive damage awards. They include:
- “Actual malice” means an intentional wrongdoing in the sense of an evil-minded act.
- “Wanton and willful disregard” means a deliberate act or omission with knowledge of a high degree of probability of harm to another and reckless indifference to the consequences of such act or omission.
Obviously, either of the above categories is open to interpretation. Notwithstanding, New Jersey law also requires that the request for punitive damages is explicitly expressed in the legal papers filed on the injured party’s behalf. Furthermore, there must be “clear and convincing evidence” that the accident was as a result of either actual malice or one of wanton and willful disregard.
The standard for clear and convincing evidence is considered higher than making a determination based on a preponderance of the evidence. This is the recognized standard used in civil cases. However, it is not as strict as a finding beyond a reasonable doubt. The latter is the standard used in criminal cases.
Punitive Damage Awards
Punitive damages awards are added to any other monetary awards. Under New Jersey law, punitive damages awards are capped. More specifically, defendants will not be found “liable for punitive damages in any action in an amount in excess of five times the liability of that defendant for compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is greater.” Compensatory damages solely refer to the sum of money to make good for the plaintiff’s losses.
Finally, you should note one important aspect of requesting an award for punitive damages. Many insurance companies contain specific exclusions for paying out on punitive damages claims. The defendant may need to retain personal counsel to defend a request for punitive damages. Likewise, there may be an issue securing payment if a punitive damages award is granted.
At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we have decades of experience handling personal injury claims. We will review our strategy with you based on the circumstances of your case. Give us a call to schedule an appointment.