Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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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

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In a series of decisions arising from personal injuries sustained by business invitees on the premises of businesses whose operations involve customer self-service, the New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized a principle known as “mode of operation.” This appeal arose from a slip-and-fall accident that occurred at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Cherry Hill. On the evening of her accident, plaintiff Janice Prioleau and her adult son and daughter, Richard Prioleau and Adriana Prioleau, were on a trip from their home in Delaware to New Jersey. Plaintiff and her children recalled that the weather that evening was rainy; plaintiff stated that there was a torrential storm. Plaintiff and her children decided to stop at the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to have dinner. Plaintiff testified that, because of the heavy rain outside, she and her children tracked water into the restaurant. As she approached the restroom, plaintiff slipped and fell, landing on her buttocks and hands. According to plaintiff, the floor near the restroom felt greasy and wet. She stated that there were no mats or warning signs in the area where she fell. Plaintiff s children agreed with her that the floor near the restroom at the restaurant was slippery and greasy. Plaintiff’s testimony established that she had not yet ordered or purchased her dinner when her accident occurred. Instead, by her own account, plaintiff fell immediately after entering the restaurant. She asserted a negligence claim and specifically alleged that defendants failed to exercise reasonable care by failing to provide plaintiff, an invitee, with a safe place to traverse the premises. The jury found defendants negligent, without identifying the theory of negligence on which its verdict was based, and concluded that defendants’ negligence was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s accident. Defendants appealed the trial court’s judgment. A divided Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for a directed verdict. The majority reasoned that the unifying factor in case law recognizing the “mode-of-operation” doctrine was the negligence [that] resulted from the business’s method of operation, which was designed to allow patrons to directly handle merchandise or products without intervention from business employees, and entailed an expectation of customer carelessness. Finding no reversible error in the Appellate Division’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Prioleau v. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Inc." on Justia Law