A Capehart Scatchard Blog

No Punitive Damages May be Awarded Against an Estate for Dog Bite Claim against Deceased Defendant

By on September 12, 2014 in Blog with 1 Comment

Veronica Maciag, a minor, was attacked by a pit bull owned by the decedent defendant, Kenneth Kantor. There had been prior incidents involving this dog, in which the dog had escaped and bitten people. The minor filed suit against Kantor to recover for her injuries. After the lawsuit was filed, Kantor passed away and his estate was substituted in as a defendant. In Maciag v. Kantor, docket no. BER-5878-11 (June 25, 2014 Law Div.), the trial court judge was asked to rule on a motion filed by the defendant Estate to dismiss the punitive damages claim asserted against the defendant.

The defendant argued that the purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter the wrongdoer only. Given that the defendant is now deceased, the defendant Estate contended that the punitive damages claim must be dismissed, because the defendant can no longer be punished or deterred from his alleged egregious acts.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that the defendant was clearly aware of the dog’s propensity to escape and bite others. Also, the case had previously been listed for trial and plaintiff argued that, had the case been tried previously, the defendant would have still been alive. Further, the plaintiff contended that an estate assumes the liabilities of its decedent in numerous scenarios. Thus, plaintiff’s position was that, just because the defendant was now deceased, that should not change the defendant’s liability for punitive damages.

The trial judge was faced with deciding whether a claim for punitive damages survives the death of the defendant. The court pointed out that the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act allows punitive damages to be awarded for the purpose of punishing and thereby deterring only the wrongdoer.

While this was a novel claim in New Jersey, 32 other jurisdictions confronting this same issue have held that punitive damages may not be awarded against a decedent’ estate. Hence, consistent with the purposes of the Act, the trial court found that punitive damages may not be pursued against a deceased defendant and granted the Estates’ motion to dismiss the punitive damages claim.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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There is 1 Brilliant Comment

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  1. Paul says:

    Random Question: My name is Paul and I’m an attorney in Bergen County. I actually may have a similar situation where the firm represents a Defendant who probably will pass away prior to end of litigation and Plaintiff is seeking punitive damages. I agree that punitive damages should not be awarded if the defendant has passed. I’m trying to get more information about this case. Do you know which judge handled it? Attorney? I’d love to see the opinion if possible

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