Pain and Suffering Damages in New Jersey
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 07, 2018
New Jersey: the true home of the New York Giants and Jets, Tony Soprano, and Chris Christie. It’s also a popular commuting base for Philadelphia and New York and it's the most densely populated state in the entire country. With all those people and all those reasons to be on the road, plus the cold winter weather, there is reason to be cautious and reason to be familiar with the state’s personal injury laws – especially the rules and limits on pain and suffering damages.
What Are Pain and Suffering Damages?
If you are a fan of legal dramas or John Grisham novels, you’ve probably heard of “pain and suffering” damages, but they are more than a plot line. These damages account for physical pain and emotional anguish that a person deals with after an accident or intentional harm by another person. The anguish portion of these damages often factors in depression, anxiety, loss of sleep, and other mental symptoms that accompany the injuries sustained. These hard-to-calculate pain and suffering awards are often referred to as non-economic (or “general”) damages.
When a judge, lawyer, or jury is attempting to place a dollar value on pain and suffering, they will often consider:
- The extent to which the injured party’s daily routine be limited or altered
- How much the injury impacts relationships at home or work
- Does the pain or injury affect sleep or other lifestyle factors?
- To what extent will the injury impact the party in the long term?
Limits on Pain and Suffering Damages
Because pain and anguish awards can be so hard to calculate, and juries can be swayed by emotions rather than reason, there is fear of, and potential for, abuse in the form of major awards – sometimes many times higher than the actual economic damages that occurred as a result of an accident. Many states have limits on these damages to keep awards under control. While ostensibly reducing the potential for abuse, these laws also limit the recovery available to those who are legitimately injured and suffering excruciating pain or distress. Fortunately for accident victims in New Jersey, most attempts to limit damages have so far failed.
Contributory or Comparative Negligence
Modified comparative fault state. Party not more than 50% at fault can recover damages, which are reduced by one’s own percentage of fault. (NJ Rev Stat § 2A:15-5.1 (2013).)
Modified Comparative Fault Rules in New Jersey
New Jersey is one of the majority of states that have adopted “modified comparative fault” rules. In these states, the law limits the injured party’s damage recovery in proportion to their degree of fault – and if a party is more than 50 percent at fault, they cannot recover at all. A judge or jury sets percentages of fault for each party, unless a case settles first. For example, if a driver is injured in an accident, but was found to be 49 percent at fault (such as someone speeding in bad weather), they can recover up to 51 percent of their damages. The other party cannot recover, as they were more than 50 percent at fault.
No Cap on Pain and Suffering Damages
While many states cap non-economic damages (including pain and suffering awards), or medical malpractice damage awards, New Jersey has no such caps. In fact, there is only one cap, other than the comparative fault rules, that may come into play: a limit on punitive damages. Punitive damages are rare and are meant to cover times where a party acts particularly egregiously, such as a drunk surgeon committing malpractice. These damages are capped at five times the amount of compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is greater.
Filing a Pain and Suffering Claim? Talk to a New Jersey Accident Attorney
You may be entitled to pain and suffering damages for certain injuries, but these claims require skill to prove. Even without caps, pain and suffering damages can be an uphill battle: they're hard to prove and the comparative fault rules could limit your recovery. Speak to an experienced New Jersey injury law attorney to discuss your case, strategy, and chances of recovery.
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