Let’s clear up some common misunderstandings about what it takes to have a claim for common law fraud in the civil courts of New Jersey.
First, there must be a material misrepresentation of a presently existing or past fact. That means that someone lied to you about something significant.
Secondly, it must be proven that the “misrepresenter” knew or believed that what s/he said was false.
Third, you need to rely on the misrepresentation to your detriment.
Lastly, you need to show that you were financially damaged by the fraud.
Let’s take an example. A friend from the PTA is selling her car. You go to see it and look under the hood. You notice a lot of oil around the engine. You mention that to the friend and she says that she was just sloppy in adding oil to the car and that there is nothing wrong with the car. Satisfied with that explanation, you buy the car from her, and soon learn that a blown engine gasket needs to be replaced at a cost of $1000.
These facts make a good case for civil fraud. One potential problem is that it is your word against your friend’s, so that you are taking the chance that the judge or jury may not believe you. You have the burden of proof in this case. It is better if you have a witness in support.
You can also make a claim for fraudulent concealment. One example is a home seller that installs paneling in the basement to cover up water damage. In that case, you are not required to prove any misrepresentation, but only the wrongdoing of the home seller and that this caused you a loss.
A general statement, e.g. “this is a great car”, is usually not fraudulent, even if it turns out that the car has a problem.
In fraud cases, you need to prove your case by “clear and convincing evidence”, which is a higher standard than the preponderance of the evidence usually used in other civil cases.
Our office offers a free initial consultation for fraud and other civil cases. Please give us a call.