When you suffer property losses and injuries in a car accident in either New York or New Jersey, you can recover compensation for your losses and expenses from the negligent party. In certain extreme situations, you might also be able to recover punitive damages for willful or egregiously wanton conduct.

The New York and New Jersey car accident attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman P.C. represent injured parties in automobile accident cases. Our goal is always to recover the largest available damages award, including punitive damages—so that our clients can rebuild their lives.

What circumstances will justify a punitive damages award?

Car accidents that are caused by a party’s simple negligence will rarely justify a punitive damages award. The negligent behavior must be so egregious or willful that a court sees a need to punish a negligent party, for example:

  • a driver who has been cited several times for driving under the influence of alcohol continues to drink and drive and causes an accident while intoxicated
  • a driver fleeing from police pursuit ignores multiple traffic laws and crashes into another car
  • drivers who are racing at dangerously high speeds collide with other cars
  • a driver intentionally collides with another car or rams a group of pedestrians
  • a vehicle crashes due to its owner’s repeated failure to perform routine maintenance or the removal or disabling of safety systems that could have prevented the crash

Some car accident circumstances might place liability on parties other than the driver who caused the crash– if the facts justify them. For example, a bar or restaurant continues to serve an inebriated patron– who then drives drunk. An injured car accident victim might have a claim for punitive damages against that establishment.

Similarly, a business that hires and entrusts a commercial vehicle to an employee without checking their driving and accident history may be liable for punitive damages due to grossly negligent hiring practices. 

Are there limits to the amount of punitive damages that an accident victim can recover?

New York does not place limits on punitive damages. New Jersey caps punitive damages at the greater of $350,000 or five times the amount of an accident victim’s compensatory damages. In both states, courts will apply the United States Supreme Court’s guidance to determine a punitive damages award that withstands a constitutional due process argument. That guidance requires a court to consider:

  • the egregiousness of the negligent party’s conduct
  • the amount of punitive damages relative to the victim’s economic and non-economic damages
  • any legislative penalties that the negligent party must pay.

Where punitive damages are justified, an experienced personal injury lawyer will frame the case’s facts to demonstrate how the at-fault party’s gross negligence merits it.  

If punitive damages are not justified, what other damages can a car accident victim recover?

In almost every case when another party is at fault for causing a car accident, an injured person can recover economic and non-economic damages to reimburse their losses and expenses. These include the value of any property that was damaged or destroyed, medical costs and expenses, costs of occupational and rehabilitation to recover from injuries, replacement of lost wages– and where injuries were serious, the value of the victim’s pain and suffering.

Only a portion of these total damages will be recovered from the accident victim’s auto liability insurance under the no-fault insurance rules that are in effect in both New York and New Jersey. Those rules also affect the types of compensatory damages that an injured party can collect in a lawsuit.

Call us at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer, & Graifman P. C. for an Assessment of the Damages You Can Recover After a Car Accident

For a confidential assessment of the damages that you may be able to recover, please see our website or call our offices. Our car accident lawyers represent accident victims in Rockland and Bergen Counties and elsewhere in both states. We fight tirelessly to recover the compensation that our clients deserve from negligent drivers and other liable parties.