While rare, punitive damages are available to personal injury victims in New York and New Jersey when the defendant’s behavior is particularly egregious. Most personal injury cases involve ordinary carelessness or negligence, which would not give rise to punitive damages. If you’ve been injured and have questions, contact us at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C. for a free consultation.

What Are Punitive Damages?

The civil court system is geared toward awarding financial remuneration– referred to as compensatory damages– to victims to help them rebuild their lives. These damages include economic and non-economic damages aimed at reimbursing the victim for medical costs, lost wages, pain, suffering, or loss of companionship. In a personal injury case, the civil court system typically doesn’t try to punish the defendant.

However, there are exceptions in New York and New Jersey. On rare occasions, they do intentionally punish the defendant. The purpose is to deter them and warn others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

Is There a Cap for Punitive Damages?

In personal injury lawsuits in New York, there is no cap on how much a plaintiff can recover in punitive damages. Generally, the total punitive damages awarded may be approximately ten times the amount of compensatory damages. Yet this amount varies and depends on several factors. For example, the financial worth of the defendant is important. Large corporations will typically have much deeper pockets than the average individual. Therefore, the court may feel that a more substantial amount is necessary to change the defendant’s behavior.

In New Jersey, there is a cap on punitive damages. The total amount cannot exceed five times the compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever number is greater.

Do Punitive Damages Apply to My Case?

Because punitive damages are somewhat rare, no clear law dictates which behaviors will give rise to them. However, below are some examples of accidents that would be strongly considered for punitive damages:

  • A driver who was traveling 67 miles per hour in a 60 mile per hour zone before rear-ending another vehicle would not be eligible for punitive damages. On the other hand, if that same driver were intoxicated and traveling at 67 miles per hour in a 20 mile per hour school zone, the court might be forced to consider them.
  • If a nursing home fails to turn a patient frequently enough and develops bedsores, the residence would likely be found negligent, but not qualify for punitive damages. However, if an immobile patient dies after being left alone in bed for five days without anyone checking on them, the court might consider enforcing them.
  • You are injured after being attacked by a dog at your friend’s backyard cookout. It is the first time that the dog has ever attacked anyone. In that situation, the court would probably not award punitive damages. However, you discover that that same dog had viciously attacked eight other people in the past year, but the owner did not warn or protect you. Again, the court may feel that punitive damages are warranted.

The Right Lawyer Can Significantly Increase the Value of Your Case

Since punitive damages are relatively uncommon, our attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C. urge you to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. They can best determine the approximate value of your case and whether or not punitive damages may apply. If they do, hiring an experienced attorney can make a significant difference. That decision may be worth millions of dollars to you and your family.

Contact us today for a free consultation

At Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C., our attorneys have been representing injured victims for more than 45 years. We pride ourselves in being “big enough to do it all, small enough to care.”

Call us today to schedule a zero-cost consultation if you have any questions about punitive damages in your personal injury case. You will not receive a bill from us unless you win because we work on a contingency fee basis.