Punitive Damages Act Clarified By New Jersey Supreme Court

The New Jersey Supreme Court just clarified the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act. As you may know, punitive damages are special damages over and above a normal jury award that are sometimes imposed when a Defendant’s conduct is particularly egregious. Punitive damages are meant to penalize bad conduct.

The NJ Supreme Court in Tarr v. Bob Ciasulli’s Mack Auto Mall, Inc. stated that punitive damages are meant to deter the future bad conduct on specific Defendant. The jury should not make a punitive damages award in order to have the effect of “general deterrence”; so that others in the Defendant’s industry would also be deterred.

Furthermore, the high Court ruled that the jury should take Defendants financial position into consideration at the time of the wrongdoing and also at the time of the judgment. The ability of the Defendant to pay for the punitive damages is one of the elements of the Punitive Damages Act.

Do you think the jury should have the ability to determine whether the Defendant has the ability to pay in an NJ personal injury case? Currently, New Jersey juries are not allowed to know whether a Defendant has auto insurance.

In a normal case (without punitive damages) the jury is not given information as the Defendant’s ability to pay. Should this be changed? Could this hurt a Plaintiff in a personal injury case?