Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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Plaintiff Robert Ferrante was involved in an automobile accident in 2006 where the other motorist caused the collision. Without informing his auto insurance carrier, defendant New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group (“NJM”), Ferrante initiated a negligence lawsuit against the tortfeasor, who had a liability limit of $100,000 on his insurance policy. The parties participated in mandatory arbitration, which set Ferrante’s damages at $90,000. Again, without informing NJM and allowing it to exercise its subrogation rights, Ferrante rejected the award, and sought a trial de novo. He also refused a $50,000 settlement offer without notifying NJM. Prior to the trial, Ferrante entered into a high-low agreement with the tortfeasor, which set the range of damages between $25,000 and $100,000, notwithstanding a jury verdict. Ferrante did not communicate this agreement or the trial itself to NJM, either. Following the trial, a jury awarded plaintiff $200,000 in damages, but the Law Division entered a judgment of $100,000 based on the high-low agreement. For the first time in 2011, Ferrante sent NJM a letter required by Longworth v. Van Houten, 223 N.J. Super. 174 (App. Div. 1988), stating that he was seeking UIM benefits. In the letter, Ferrante wrote that the other motorist was willing to settle for $100,000. However, Ferrante failed to mention the arbitration, high-low agreement, completed trial, or jury verdict. Based on this information, NJM told Ferrante to accept the offer. NJM and Ferrante proceeded to litigation over UIM coverage; only during a pretrial discovery exchange did Ferrante finally disclose his past dealings. NJM moved to dismiss the complaint, and the Law Division granted the motion, finding that Ferrante violated Longworth by not notifying NJM of any of the proceedings with the other motorist. On appeal, a split panel of the Appellate Division reversed. The majority held that because the trial court did not consider if NJM was actually prejudiced by the lack of notice, a remand was needed to determine if NJM sustained any prejudice. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed: due to the complete absence of notice by Ferrante to NJM at any point over years of litigation, including the lack of notice about the high-low agreement or completed jury trial during the UIM process, NJM could refuse to pay the UIM benefits. View "Ferrante v. New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group" on Justia Law

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The case stemmed from a 2010 fire in the City of Paterson (City) that consumed a multi-unit home owned by Florence Brown, taking the lives of four residents and injuring several others as they made their escape. During the lengthy proceedings below, a question arose of whether the City and its electrical inspector, Robert Bierals—alleged by the plaintiffs to be at least partially at fault for the fire, were entitled to qualified or absolute immunity under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA). During discovery, Bierals and the City moved for summary judgment on immunity grounds. The trial court ruled that Bierals and the City were entitled only to qualified immunity and denied their motions. After the close of discovery, Bierals and the City again moved for summary judgment. A different judge granted the motion, ruling that they were entitled to absolute immunity. Because the critical causative conduct in this case was a failure to enforce the law, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded Bierals was entitled to absolute immunity. The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division and entered judgment in favor of Bierals and the City. View "Lee v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In 2001, plaintiff Doreen Hayes was diagnosed with a syrinx in her thoracic spine. Plaintiff’s last MRI, prior to the accident at issue in this case, was taken in May 2007. In 2008, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by her mother, defendant Barbara Delamotte. After the 2008 accident, plaintiff underwent spinal fusion surgery on plaintiff’s C6-7 and C7-T1 vertebrae. Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint claiming that her mother and the unidentified vehicle caused the 2008 accident. Before trial, the defense retained Dr. Arthur Vasen, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine plaintiff and review her medical records, including cervical MRIs taken before and after the 2008 accident. The defense took Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition for use at trial rather than call him to give in-court testimony. At trial, plaintiff moved to have portions of Dr. Vasen’s deposition referring to reports of non-testifying doctors stricken from the video. The trial court denied the motion. At trial, defendants presented Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition. The trial court gave the jury a limiting instruction regarding the use of non-testifying experts’ opinions. Dr. Vasen testified that there were no differences between the MRIs taken before the accident in 2007 and after the accident in 2008. However, the films that Dr. Vasen showed in the tape were both labeled 2008. At the conclusion of the parties’ evidence, plaintiff’s counsel requested the opportunity to replay Dr. Vasen’s testimony during summation, and comment on the testimony, to demonstrate to the jury that the doctor compared MRI films marked with the same date. The trial court upheld defendant’s objection, and provided an additional limiting instruction as to the reports of non-testifying experts. Ultimately, the jury determined that plaintiff’s mother was solely responsible for the 2008 accident but found that plaintiff did not sustain a permanent injury proximately caused by that accident. Plaintiff was granted a new trial. At the second trial, the only issue presented was whether plaintiff sustained a permanent injury as a result of the 2008 accident. Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition was retaken for use at the second trial; plaintiff once again moved in limine to bar Dr. Vasen’s testimony about the findings of non-testifying doctors. This time, the court granted plaintiff’s motion. After the second trial, the jury found that plaintiff sustained a permanent injury proximately caused by the 2008 accident and awarded her $250,000 in damages. The Appellate Division found that the trial court improperly granted a new trial and reinstated the jury’s verdict in favor of defendant from the first trial. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division and reinstated the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following the second trial. Because the trial court’s error in preventing plaintiff from replaying a portion of the deposition during summation at the first trial resulted in a miscarriage of justice, the trial court properly granted plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. View "Hayes v. Delamotte" on Justia Law

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T.T., individually and on behalf of her three-year-old daughter, A.T., filed this medical malpractice action seeking damages from a hospital and several medical professionals for injuries caused during the child’s birth.1 The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants and dismissed the action with prejudice because plaintiff failed to serve a timely affidavit of merit. The Appellate Division affirmed, rejecting plaintiff’s argument that the circumstances should have supported entry of a dismissal without prejudice under Rule 4:37-1(b). After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment to defendants and remanded for further proceedings. The Court determined that a combination of circumstances (not the least of which was the failure to schedule a pretrial conference to address the affidavit of merit requirement as New Jersey case law directed), warranted allowing the untimely affidavit to be filed. "The equities militate in favor of permitting a facially meritorious action to proceed here, particularly because any prejudice to defendants may be addressed through costs imposed by the trial court. We decline to approve recourse to a voluntary dismissal without prejudice under Rule 4:37-1(b) as an appropriate avenue for addressing failures to comply with the affidavit of merit requirement, including when a minor is involved. Rather, we will require modification of the Judiciary’s electronic filing and notification case management system to ensure that, going forward, necessary and expected conferences are scheduled to enhance parties’ compliance with requirements under the Affidavit of Merit Statute (AMS or the statute), N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-26 to -29, in furtherance of the statutory policy goals." View "A.T. v. Cohen" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the tragic death of eleven-year-old Abiah Jones after she fell from a ride in an amusement park. The issues this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s consideration was: (1) the circumstances under which a defendant is barred from asserting contribution and common-law indemnification claims against a public entity for purposes of the Tort Claims Act; (2) whether the jury should be permitted to allocate a percentage of fault to a public entity pursuant to the Comparative Negligence Act and the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law; and (3) the effect of any such allocation of fault on plaintiffs recovery of damages if the jury returns a verdict in their favor. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s determination. The plain language of N.J.S.A.59:8-8 required parties seeking to assert a claim against a public entity to serve a notice of claim within ninety days of the date on which the cause of action accrues. Because the Morey defendants did not serve a timely notice of claim on the Association, their third-party contribution and common-law indemnification claims against the Association are barred. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the trial court should have afforded defendants an opportunity to present evidence of negligence, that negligence was a proximate cause of Abiah Jones’s death. If defendants present prima facie evidence, the trial court should instruct the jury to determine whether any fault should be allocated in accordance with N.J.S.A.2A:15-5.2. Should the jury find negligence was a proximate cause of Abiah Jones’s death, the trial court should mold any judgment entered in plaintiffs’ favor pursuant to N.J.S.A.2A:15-5.2(d) to reduce the damages awarded to plaintiffs by the percentage of fault that the jury allocates. View "Jones v. Morey Pier, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Tamar and Ari Ginsberg, now New Jersey residents, lived in New York during Tamar's pregnancy and at the time of the birth of their daughter, Abigail. Abigail tragically died from Tay-Sachs disease, a genetically inherited, incurable neurological disorder, at the age of three. Plaintiffs sued a New York laboratory owned and operated by defendant Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (Quest), a New Jersey-based medical testing company, alleging failure to provide correct blood test results when Ari sought to determine whether he was a Tay-Sachs carrier. Quest, in turn, asserted a third-party claim against Mount Sinai Medical Center, Inc., a New York hospital, which allegedly tested Ari's blood sample in New York pursuant to its contract with Quest. Plaintiffs also sued several New Jersey-domiciled defendants whom they alleged to have provided plaintiff Tamar with negligent advice and treatment in New Jersey. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review in this interlocutory appeal was whether the choice-of-law principles set forth in 146, 145, and 6 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (1971) should have been applied uniformly to all defendants in a given case, or whether courts should undertake a defendant-by-defendant choice-of-law analysis when the defendants are domiciled in different states. Although the appellate panel agreed that New Jersey and New York law diverged in material respects, it concluded that New York constituted the place of injury because it was the state of plaintiffs' domicile during Tamar's pregnancy, the state in which prenatal testing would have been conducted and the pregnancy would likely have been terminated, and the state in which Abigail was born. The panel then considered the contacts set forth in Restatement 145 and the principles stated in Restatement 6 to determine whether New Jersey had a more significant relationship to the parties and the issues than New York. The panel rejected the trial court's assumption that the law of a single state must govern all of the issues in this lawsuit and instead undertook separate choice-of-law analyses for the New Jersey and New York defendants. The panel found that the presumption in favor of New York law was overcome with regard to the New Jersey defendants, but not with regard to Quest and Mount Sinai. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ginsberg v. Quest Diagnostics, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lamar Williams worked and owned a car in Alaska. In February 2010, he arranged through his employer to have the car shipped to New Jersey by defendant American Auto Logistics. After the car arrived, Williams visited the American Auto Logistics facility in New Jersey to pick it up. Williams inspected the car, found no apparent damage, and drove away. On leaving the facility, however, he heard swishing noises in the back of the car. He found water in the trunk and returned to the facility, where defendant's employees removed the accumulated water and offered a small amount of money for water damage. Williams rejected the offer. Williams sought out a mechanic who estimated the repairs would cost more than $10,000. He called American Auto Logistics and offered to settle for less than that amount, but the company rejected the offer and refused to pay anything for the damage. American Auto Logistics followed up by sending Williams a letter that disclaimed any responsibility and claimed the car was not damaged during shipping. Williams was twice denied his right to a jury trial by a trial court in the Special Civil Part. On both occasions, the trial court relied on Rule 4:25-7, prescribing certain pre-trial procedures, and sanctioned Williams for failure to comply by denying his right to a jury. In this appeal, the issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a litigant could lose his constitutionally protected right to a jury trial as a sanction for failure to comply with procedural rules. The case also presented a question about the court rules applicable to the Superior Court's Law Division, Special Civil Part. The Court held trial courts could not deprive civil litigants of their constitutionally protected right to a jury trial as a sanction for failure to comply with a procedural rule. The Court further instructed that Rule 4:25-7 did not apply to proceedings in the Special Civil Part. View "Williams v. American Auto Logistics" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sofia Torres alleged that she was seriously injured in a rear-end collision between her car and a garbage truck owned by defendant Suburban Disposal, Inc., and operated by defendant Javier Pabon. Plaintiff alleged that, as a result of defendants negligent maintenance of the truck s taillights, she was unaware that the truck was ahead of her. She contended that Pabon drove negligently, causing the collision. Defendants denied plaintiff's allegations and asserted that plaintiff's own negligence caused the accident. The case was tried before a jury, which found both parties negligent but allocated fifty-five percent of the fault to defendants, and awarded a substantial verdict. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's judgment. The New Jersey Supreme Court found too many errors at trial, reversed and remanded for a new trial. First, the trial court improperly directed the jury to consider drawing an adverse inference against defendants from Pabon s failure to testify after plaintiff presented Pabon's deposition testimony to the jury. Second, the trial court permitted plaintiff to read to the jury requests for admissions, served by plaintiff immediately before trial, which improperly sought defendants admissions to medical opinions offered by one of their expert witnesses. Third, the trial court erroneously issued a second "Clawans" charge, again authorizing the jury to draw an adverse inference against defendants because they decided not to call their expert as a witness. Fourth, the trial court made significant errors in its jury instruction regarding the duty of a driver to maintain a safe distance behind another driver. Finally, notwithstanding plaintiff's testimony before the jury that she had significant medical bills and lacked the resources to pay them, the trial court failed to instruct the jury that plaintiff was not entitled to medical expenses as an element of damages, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 39:6A-12. View "Torres v. Pabon" on Justia Law

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Defendant Sean Stoddard, D.P.M. practiced podiatry at a clinic with offices in Toms River and Lakewood. In 2007, he applied to the Rhode Island Medical Malpractice Joint Underwriting Association (RIJUA) for medical malpractice liability insurance. Among other representations, the application indicated that at least fifty-one percent of Dr. Stoddard's practice was generated in Rhode Island; that answer was false. Dr. Stoddard submitted renewal applications from 2008 through 2011, each of which stated that at least fifty-one percent of Dr. Stoddard's practice was generated in Rhode Island. Dr. Stoddard performed three surgeries on plaintiff Thomas DeMarco, a New Jersey resident. In October 2011, DeMarco and his wife filed a medical malpractice complaint in New Jersey alleging that Dr. Stoddard negligently performed the third surgery. Dr. Stoddard forwarded the complaint to the RIJUA, which responded with a reservation of rights letter stating that the RIJUA only provided coverage for physicians who maintained fifty-one percent of their professional time and efforts in Rhode Island. The Appellate Division granted the RIJUA s motion for leave to appeal, and affirmed the trial court order. The panel determined that New Jersey law should have applied, and concluded that innocent third parties should be protected for a claim arising before rescission. The panel concluded that the RIJUA owed a duty to indemnify Dr. Stoddard up to $1 million, the amount of medical malpractice liability insurance that a physician licensed to practice medicine and performing medical services in New Jersey was required to maintain. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed after review of the appellate court record, finding that RIJUA owed neither a duty to defend nor a duty to indemnify Dr. Stoddard, who misrepresented that a portion of his practice was generated in Rhode Island, which was a fact that formed the basis of his eligibility for insurance. View "DeMarco v. Stoddard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs James Jarrell and his wife filed a complaint against Dr. Kaul and the Market Street Surgical Center (MSSC). On summary judgment, the court found that there was no cause of action against Dr. Kaul for deceit, misrepresentation, lack of informed consent, or battery based on his failure to maintain insurance. The trial court also dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against MSSC because they lacked an expert who would testify that MSSC deviated from accepted standards of medical care by failing to properly ascertain Dr. Kaul’s credentials and by permitting an uninsured physician to perform spinal procedures in its facility. Trial proceeded against Dr. Kaul limited to the issue of medical negligence, and the jury found that Dr. Kaul negligently performed the spinal fusion, which proximately caused James Jarrell’s injury. Dr. Kaul appealed and plaintiffs cross-appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the summary judgment orders, the jury verdict, and the damages award. The panel held that the trial court properly dismissed all claims against Dr. Kaul based on his lack of insurance because N.J.S.A.45:9-19.17 did not provide a private cause of action for injured parties. For the same reasons, the panel concluded that N.J.S.A.45:19-17(b), did not permit a direct action by a patient against a surgical center that permitted an uninsured or underinsured physician to use its facilities. The Supreme Court denied Dr. Kaul’s petition for certification, but granted plaintiffs cross-petition. Although it was undisputed that Dr. Kaul was uninsured for the procedure he performed on Jarrell, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Jarrell’s direct claim against the physician for his failure to maintain insurance. The statute imposing the medical malpractice liability insurance requirement did not expressly authorize a direct action against a noncompliant physician and neither the language nor the purpose of the statute supported such a claim. Although a reasonably prudent patient may consider a physician’s compliance with the statutorily imposed liability insurance requirement material information, lack of compliance or failure to disclose compliance does not necessarily provide the predicate for an informed consent claim. The Court reversed and remanded plaintiffs’ claim against MSSC, holding that a cause of action for negligent hiring could be asserted against a facility that granted privileges to physicians for its continuing duty to ensure that those physicians had and maintained the required medical malpractice liability insurance or have posted a suitable letter of credit that conformed with the statutory requirement. View "Jarrell v. Kaul" on Justia Law