What are punitive damages in medical malpractice cases?

Your medical malpractice lawsuit in New Jersey could result in three types of damages: 

  •        Economic: These refer to items that can be quantified, such as medical bills, missed wages.
  •        Non-economic: These refer to damages that stem from items such as pain and suffering or a loss of your future earning capacity.
  •        Punitive: These damages are meant to specifically punish the defendant.

It is rare for a plaintiff to receive compensation for the last type of damages. The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that punitive damages were only awarded in 5 percent of the 14,359 cases in which the plaintiff won in 2005.

In order to receive a punitive award, it must be obvious that the negligent party knew that he or she was committing harm. Judges will evaluate if the defendant acted either maliciously or purposefully. For example, if a doctor knows that a sponge has been left inside a patient and stitches him or her up anyway, a court could choose to award punitive damages.

New Jersey law sets forth several requirements when you choose to seek punitive damages. First, you must put in your initial complaint that you want that type of compensation. Additionally, you must first be awarded economic and non-economic damages before a court will consider granting punitive damages.

Lastly, New Jersey caps punitive damages at either $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages that were awarded, whichever comes to the greater amount. A judge does have the discretion to change the amount of money awarded in punitive damages to satisfy the law.

While this information may be useful, it should not be taken as legal advice.

Date Published: February 7, 2017

Written by: Cooper Levenson, P.A.

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