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An award of punitive damages, also termed exemplary damages, is discretionary and not a matter of right. Discretion here means 'legal discretion in the exercise of which the trial judge must take into account the applicable law and the particular circumstances of the case, to the end that a just result is reached.' Security Corp. v. Lehman Associates, Inc., 108 N.J. Super. 137, 145 (App. Div. 1970). Punitive damages are allowed 'to punish the wrongdoer for a willful act and to vindicate the rights of a party in substitution for personal revenge, thus safeguarding the public peace.' Winkler v. Hartford Acc. and Indemn. Co., 66 N.J. Super. 22, 29 (App. Div. 1961), certif. den. 34 N.J. 581 (1961). While each case must be governed by its own facts, the generally recognized factors are '(1) actual malice, which is nothing more or less than intentional wrongdoing -- an evil-minded act; or (2) an act accompanied by a wanton and willful disregard of the rights of another' La Bruno v. Lawrence, 64 N.J. Super. 570, 575 (App. Div. 1960), certif. den. 34 N.J. 323 (1961).

In the context of a § 1983 action, punitive damages are recoverable ...

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