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What are punitive damages?

Punitive damages are sometimes awarded by a jury or judge in New Jersey personal injury cases. These damages extend beyond actual damages and are typically awarded to plaintiffs as a way to punish the defendant for wrongful action that is deemed to be outrageous.

The general theory that supports punitive damages is that the interests of the harmed person and society as a whole will benefit when additional sanctions are imposed upon a defendant that has committed outrageous levels of misconduct. However, the nature of what constitutes outrageous misconduct is subject to legal interpretation that is imprecise at best. Furthermore, punitive damages are often criticized by insurance and businesses leaders that say they unnaturally increase their business costs.

Punitive damages are seen as a hybrid sanction that falls somewhere between the realms of civil law and criminal law. They are awarded in civil court; however, they are not based on actual damages, but more akin to a criminal fine.

The practice of awarding punitive damages in civil court dates back to 1763 in England. The American colonies took up the practice thereafter. As of the late 19th century, punitive damages had become an important part of American civil law.

Some of the most common types of violations that may result in punitive relief include: fraud, bad faith, oppression, malice, violence, outrageousness, wickedness, wanton and recklessness. These situations usually refer to instances of intentional or malicious action, and/or actions without any regard for the interests and rights of the plaintiff who was harmed. New Jersey plaintiffs who suspect their injuries or damages occurred as a result of outrageous wrongdoing may want to discuss the possibility of seeking punitive damages with the attorneys who are representing them in their cases.

Source: LawBrain, "Punitive Damages," accessed Dec. 11, 2015

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