What Is Willful Negligence in Personal Injury Cases?

  • Dan T. Matrafajlo
  • Mon Jun 2023
  • Personal Injury,
  • 0
personal injury

To successfully resolve your personal injury claim under New Jersey law, you need proof of negligent wrongdoing by the defendant (or the party whom you are claiming caused your injuries).

To prove negligence, you (the plaintiff) must establish for elements:

1) the defendant owed you a duty;

2) the duty was breached by failing to uphold a certain standard of care;

3) the failure or breach caused your injuries;

4) you suffered actual harm or damages.

But what happens when a defendant’s willful or reckless misconduct results in personal harm or damages? Under New Jersey law, willful negligence happens when one party knowingly acts with reckless disregard, and in doing so, intentionally disregards any risk of harm to others. This type of negligence is more severe than negligence or even gross negligence. In some cases, if the negligent behavior is so gross, it can warrant punitive damages on top of general compensatory damages.

Willful v. Gross v. Ordinary Negligence

Negligence refers to when a party fails to use reasonable care. In ordinary negligence cases, defendants fail to act as another reasonable person would have acted in a similar situation, resulting in harm to another party. Most personal injury cases involve ordinary negligence.

Gross negligence results from action that is substantially more neglectful than regular negligence. Under New Jersey law, gross negligence includes reckless, willful or wanton misconduct. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that gross negligence may also take place from “an act or omission, which is more than ordinary negligence, but less than willful or intentional misconduct.”

Willful negligence cases are rarer. In these types of cases, the harms the defendant causes are also more likely to result in severe injury or death.  Some examples of willful and reckless misconduct include:

  • Attempting to downplay or disguise a known safety hazard at an amusement park;
  • Intentionally assigning a worker faulty tools or a piece of equipment known to malfunction;
  • Requiring a welder to work without protective gear;
  • Car crashes caused by a drunk driver 
  • Driving a car at 100 mph in a known 15 mph school crossing zone;   
  • Intentionally ignoring a someone’s cry for help when they are suffering from a serious injury on business premises; and
  • A surgeon who operates under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Punitive Damages

If you can prove that another party’s willful negligence caused your injuries or harm, you may be entitled to monetary damages for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident.

If the defendant’s actions rise to the level of extreme negligent conduct or exceptionally willful behavior, you may also request punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded by the court to punish a party for their extremely negligent conduct.

 Call a New Jersey Accident Attorney

If you or someone you know has suffered any type of injury in an accident caused by the reckless or negligent actions of another party, an experienced New Jersey pedestrian accident injury attorney can help. Call Beninato & Matrafajlo Attorneys at Law, LLC at 908-248-4404 to schedule a free, complimentary consultation with our legal team today.

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Dan T. Matrafajlo

Dan T. Matrafajlo

NJ State Bar: #031722003

Dan T. Matrafajlo, Esq., is the managing member and lead partner at Beninato and Matrafajlo, Attorneys at Law, LLC. Renowned for groundbreaking contributions to personal injury law, he has set legal precedents with influential Appellate decisions and garnered recognition in the New Jersey Law Journal. A consistent honoree on Super Lawyers' Rising Star list for the past five years, Matrafajlo's litigation prowess is widely acknowledged. He has won various awards like Super Lawyers, Thomson Reuters Association 2019, and Nominated into Super Lawyers as a Rising Star from 2012 until the Present.

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