Under New Jersey law, punitive damages may be awarded in civil sexual abuse or assault cases, including child molestation cases. Punitive damages claims are not made lightly and are not appropriate in ordinary negligence cases, such as an auto injury case. Rather, they are reserved for cases in which a party acts in such a manner that deserves punishment.
What are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are designed to punish a party (wrongdoer) for particularly egregious conduct that is malicious or amounts to an intentional disregard of the plaintiff’s rights. The idea is that punitive damages should prevent the party from engaging in similar conduct in the future. Because the civil justice system is largely limited to awarding monetary compensation to an injured party, punitive damages awards are also monetary.
In many civil sex abuse/assault lawsuits in New Jersey, punitive damages are often warranted. However, these claims will not be appropriate in every single case. Rather, certain factors must be considered when determining whether a punitive damages claim is appropriate:
- Was it likely that the conduct would result in serious harm?
- Was the defendant aware of the likelihood that harm would result from the conduct?
- What was the defendant’s conduct after learning about the harm?
- How long did the conduct occur?
- Did the defendant attempt to conceal the conduct?
- Was there any profit motive?
- Is the defendant able to pay a punitive damages award?
Civil sex abuse/assault cases often warrant punitive damages claims against both direct perpetrators (criminal perpetrators) and indirect perpetrators (those who actively fail to stop the assault/abuse or take steps to conceal it). Examples of indirect perpetrators include schools, churches, medical professional organizations, etc.
Example – School Liable for Punitive Damages
A private school in New Jersey is aware of sexual misconduct of a teacher over the course of several years. School administrators bully victims into silence over concerns that a public investigation could lead to lower enrollment.
Example – Church Liable for Punitive Damages
A large church organization in NJ receives reports that a specific employee is molesting young children. However, rather than report the employee to law enforcement, church officials reassign the employee to another church. There, the employee is allowed to work with young children and continues the pattern of abuse.
Example – Hospital Liable for Punitive Damages
Due to an error during the hiring process, a hospital nurse is hired despite a prior criminal history for sexual assault. The nurse sexually assaults several patients over the course of several months. Hospital administrators receive reports of these assaults and rather than file police reports, the hospital does nothing. The nurse continues to sexually assault patients.
About Our Civil Sex Abuse & Assault Law Practice
Firm founder Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who now focuses on representing survivors of sex abuse and assault in the civil courts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His firm has offices throughout New Jersey: Atlantic City, Cherry Hill and Iselin. Please call the firm for a free consultation. 609.223.8900
DISCLAIMER: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. It is crucial to speak to a qualified lawyer prior to making any decision about your case. Read full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.