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What Qualifies an Injury Lawsuit for a Large Punitive Award?

On occasion, a jury in a personal injury case awards a plaintiff punitive damages — more than the costs of the plaintiff’s injuries — to punish the defendant. For example, several years ago, a jury awarded the family of a paralyzed 7-year-old girl $75 million from a beer vending company at Giants Stadium because it over-served a football fan whose drunk driving after the game caused an accident that left the child permanently disabled.

Whether punitive damages should be awarded has been hotly debated within legal circles in New Jersey and across the United States. In part because cases with high punitive awards are well-publicized, people seriously injured in auto accidents often ask if their cases qualify for a large punitive award.

In fact, the requirements of the legal system make it difficult for most plaintiffs to receive such awards. First, the case must meet the following three primary criteria:

  • The injury was caused by the defendant’s actions or omissions. The forensic reconstruction of the accident must clearly demonstrate that the defendant was responsible for the adverse event.
  • The adverse event is linked with actual injuries and their long-term effects. The injury must be shown to have caused the victim to incur specific costs, including medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering.
  • The defendant demonstrated wanton disregard or malice toward the injured party. Recklessness or intent must have been involved in the management or execution of a service or the manufacturing or distribution of a product.

A business rarely acts maliciously to cause injury to a consumer. When it does, establishing a case that might warrant an award of punitive damages requires the experience of a qualified New Jersey personal injury attorney. By engaging an attorney as soon as possible after an accident occurs, evidence is more likely to be retrievable, and the likelihood of winning a substantial award is much greater.

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