Whether you become incapacitated after an automobile accident or injured at a business, if you can prove that the accident resulted from someone else's negligence you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit that results in compensation. New Jersey laws governing such lawsuits have some unique requirements, although legal procedures are similar nationwide.
What Is the Jurisdiction for My Lawsuit?
All personal injury litigation in New Jersey is filed in Superior Court, with the exact division depending upon the amount of damages being sought. The plaintiff—the individual alleging injury—may file the case either in the county of residence or in the county in which the incident occurred.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Litigation?
In New Jersey, personal injury cases must be filed within two years of the time of the incident, but in medical malpractice litigation, the two-year period begins from the time the injury or problem was discovered.
What Is the Filing Procedure?
Filing the document called the complaint is the plaintiff's first action. Once the complaint is filed, it will be assigned a "track" that will determine deadlines for pre-trial procedures such as discovery; either party can ask that the track be changed.
Within 35 days after the complaint is served, the individual, business, or organization subject to the litigation—the defendant—must file a response that answers the allegations. Defendants also can file countersuits or counterclaims if they believe they were harmed, and a cross-claim contending that a third party is actually responsible also may be filed.
How Will Damages Be Determined?
The lawsuit can request compensatory damages such as reimbursement for medical expenses, compensation for lost wages and for loss of future earning capacity. Noneconomic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, also are allowed, and there are no caps on compensatory or non-economic damages in New Jersey.
Punitive damages that "punish" the defendant for particularly outrageous or negligent conduct are permitted, though they are capped at five times the compensatory damages, or $350,000, whichever is greater. New Jersey allows plaintiffs to recover damages only if they are not more responsible than the defendant for the injury.
Preparations for the Trial
Several legal steps occur prior to trial, though not every step happens in every case. Possibilities include:
- Discovery: A mutual exchange of information and evidence
- Interrogatories: Written questions the other side must answer honestly
- Depositions: Out-of-court testimony from witnesses
- Visual inspections: Land or buildings involved in the litigation
- Medical examinations: Mental and physical evaluations
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Television dramas might convince you otherwise, but in real life the overwhelming majority of lawsuits are resolved before trial, often through arbitration, mediation, or neutral assessment. In New Jersey arbitration is required for most personal injury cases; malpractice and product liability litigation are exceptions.
The trial commences with the selection of jurors; six people is the standard, though there can be up to 12. The plaintiff and defendant present evidence in hopes of swaying jurors, five-sixths of whom must agree to any verdict. Any party can appeal any verdict, and in personal injury lawsuits appeals often center on the type and amount of damages.
What Will a Lawsuit Cost?
Personal injury litigators frequently accept cases on contingency bases, meaning that they are not compensated, beyond expenses, unless damages are awarded. New Jersey law limits contingency fees, with a sliding scale that begins at one-third of the damages for the first $500,000 awarded.
This article is a general overview of personal injury law in New Jersey. Though it is possible to handle small cases without an attorney, it is best to consult a lawyer for complex matters.