Can I Get Punitive Damages?

If you are injured in a car accident, you can recover various types of economic and non-economic damages.  You can recover for tangible losses such as medical bills, and less quantifiable damages such as pain and suffering, these are known as compensatory damages.  But can you get punitive damages? What are punitive damages anyway?

Punitive damages are rarely awarded in litigation stemming from car accidents. Punitive damages are based on the actions of the defendant and are intended to punish the offending party for engaging in certain types of socially unacceptable behavior. Furthermore, in New Jersey punitive damages are only available if the plaintiff satisfies the requirements of the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.9, et seq. 

First, the plaintiff must specifically request punitive damages in their complaint. Second, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted maliciously or in a way which demonstrated a reckless disregard for the value of human life. Third, the value of the punitive damages awarded must be decided in a secondary proceeding after the jury awards compensatory damages to the plaintiff. Finally, in the rare instances where punitive damages are awarded, the award can never be more than $350,000 or five times the compensatory damages award, whichever is greater.

Usually, standard negligence in a car accident case does not rise to the level of conduct sufficient for an award of punitive damages. If you have been involved in an automobile accident and you have questions about your entitlement to damages, contact the experienced attorneys at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP for help.