Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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In June 2018, plaintiff “Clara” and defendant “Martin” had sex after a night of drinking. Plaintiff alleged she was too intoxicated to give consent, but defendant claimed the entire encounter was consensual. Plaintiff filed for a temporary restraining order pursuant to the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 (SASPA), which required consideration of at least two factors, commonly referred to as the two "prongs:": “(1) the occurrence of one or more acts of nonconsensual sexual contact . . . against the alleged victim; and (2) the possibility of future risk to the safety or well-being of the alleged victim.” After a hearing, the trial court found both parties’ accounts to be “equally plausible.” Applying the preponderance of the evidence standard, the court concluded that Clara’s extreme voluntary intoxication rendered her “temporarily incapable of understanding the nature of her conduct” and that she had therefore been subjected to nonconsensual sexual contact within the meaning of SASPA’s first prong. With regard to the second prong, the court noted the lack of evidence that Martin sought to contact Clara after their encounter. Nonetheless, recognizing that SASPA was intended to provide protection to victims of nonconsensual sexual contact, as well as the possibility that Martin “may now harbor a grudge against [Clara] which would probably not have occurred but for these proceedings,” the court concluded that “it is more likely than not that a final restraining order is appropriate.” The Appellate Division reversed and remanded, holding that the proper standard to assess whether plaintiff was incapable of consent due to intoxication was the prostration of faculties standard. The New Jersey Supreme Court found both lower courts were wrong: the appropriate standard to determine whether sexual activity was consensual under SASPA was the standard articulated in New Jersey in Interest of M.T.S., 129 N.J. 422 (1992), which was applied from the perspective of the alleged victim. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court for assessment under the standard articulated in M.T.S. View "C.R. v. M.T." on Justia Law

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In August 2014, at approximately 2:26 a.m., Hiram Gonzalez was involved in a one-vehicle accident. Officers Leon Tucker and Saad Hashmi of the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) were dispatched to the scene. They determined Gonzalez’s vehicle was inoperable and called for a tow truck. Officer Tucker offered to drive Gonzalez to a nearby gas or PATH station, but Gonzalez refused, saying he would wait for his brother. Officer Hashmi acknowledged that the standard police practice is to leave a stranded motorist in a safe place or offer them a ride within the city’s limits, but he claimed there was no standard practice for when a stranded motorist refuses a ride but was not in a safe place. Officer Hashmi also stated that he and Officer Tucker could have waited with Gonzalez until he had a ride, but they did not because it was a busy Saturday night in the summer and “there were a lot of calls going out.” Before leaving the scene, the officers told Gonzalez to remain in the pedestrian walkway, which had a guardrail between the roadway and the sidewalk. Gonzalez was struck at around 3:42 a.m. According to a toxicology report, he had a BAC of .209% at the time he died. The officers claimed that Gonzalez did not appear intoxicated. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on whether the officers were entitled, under the particular facts and circumstances of this case, to any of the immunities from liability provided by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA), the Good Samaritan Act, or N.J.S.A. 26:2B-16, a statute that immunized officers from liability for assisting persons intoxicated in a public place to an appropriate location. The Court determined the immunities from liability provided by the Good Samaritan Act, N.J.S.A. 26:2B-16, and most TCA provisions invoked by defendants did not apply here. Defendants’ actions might be entitled to qualified immunity under certain TCA provisions on which defendants relied, however, if the involved officers’ actions were discretionary, rather than ministerial, in nature. In this instance, because of a factual dispute, that determination was for the jury to make upon remand. View "Estate of Hiram Gonzalez v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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In January 2015, plaintiff Angel Pareja was walking to work when he slipped on ice, fell, and broke his hip. The sidewalk area on which he fell was on property owned and managed by defendant Princeton International Properties, Inc. (Princeton International). The night before, a wintry mix of light rain, freezing rain, and sleet began to fall. Around the time of his fall, light rain and pockets of freezing rain were falling. Pareja’s expert opined that Princeton International could have successfully reduced the hazardous icy condition by pre-treating the sidewalk. The trial court granted summary judgment to Princeton International. The Appellate Division reversed, holding Princeton International had a duty of reasonable care to maintain the sidewalk even when precipitation was falling. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that Princeton International owed Pareja a duty only in unusual circumstances, none of which were present here. Princeton International took no action to increase Pareja’s risk, and the record showed that the ice on the sidewalk was not a pre-existing condition. View "Pareja v. Princeton International Properties" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Mary Richter, a longtime type 1 diabetic and teacher, experienced a hypoglycemic event in a classroom. She sustained serious and permanent life-altering injuries. Richter filed a claim under the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), alleging that her employer failed to accommodate her pre-existing disability. The issues this appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court were: (1) whether Richter was required to establish an adverse employment action -- such as a demotion, termination, or other similarly recognized adverse employment action -- to be able to proceed with an LAD failure-to-accommodate disability claim; and (2) whether plaintiff’s claim was barred by the “exclusive remedy provision” of the Worker’s Compensation Act (WCA) because she recovered workers’ compensation benefits. The Supreme Court held an adverse employment action was not a required element for a failure-to-accommodate claim under the LAD. Further, plaintiff’s LAD claim based on defendants’ alleged failure to accommodate her pre-existing diabetic condition was not barred by the WCA, and plaintiff need not filter her claim through the required showings of the “intentional wrong exception.” View "Richter v. Oakland Board of Education" on Justia Law

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In 2006, plaintiff Brenda Gilbert divorced her husband, Monroe Gilbert, who acquired sole possession of the family’s vehicle, which was still registered in plaintiff’s name. In April 2014, Monroe informed plaintiff that he had to report to the Woodland Park Municipal Court (WPMC) regarding many outstanding traffic tickets; the court summonses were issued in plaintiff’s name. On April 15, 2014, plaintiff met Monroe and his attorney, defendant Kenyatta Stewart, at WPMC. The matter was adjourned, and plaintiff, defendant, and Monroe discussed the best way to resolve the outstanding summonses. Plaintiff did not retain defendant as her attorney or request that he represent her; nor did defendant bill plaintiff or enter into a fee agreement with her. Nevertheless, he indicated to plaintiff that the optimal resolution would be for her to plead guilty to the charges because Monroe was at greater risk of license suspension due to his poor driving record. Plaintiff worked in the Passaic probation department since 1994. The parties disputed the extent to which defendant advised plaintiff of certain risks associated with the plea agreement. It was undisputed that defendant failed to advise plaintiff of the impact that a guilty plea might have on her public employment. In July 2014, plaintiff, through different counsel, challenged her conviction; ultimately the disposition against her was vacated, her fines were repaid to her, and the charges against plaintiff were dismissed. Plaintiff ultimately filed a complaint against defendant, alleging he breached a duty of care by “engaging in a clear conflict of interest” and urging her to enter into “unwarranted guilty pleas.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm because any discipline from her employer resulted from her failure to notify, not her conviction. Judgment was entered in defendant's favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding a jury should have decided whether defendant’s legal advice was a substantial factor in plaintiff's demotion and suspension. View "Gilbert v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether, under the facts of this case, plaintiff Leah Coleman, the victim of a violent assault by social worker Sonia Martinez’s patient, could bring a negligence claim against Martinez. Martinez’s patient, T.E., suffered two violent episodes prior to her treatment with Martinez. Coleman worked for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) and was tasked with ensuring the welfare of T.E.’s children when the children were removed from T.E.'s care after her hospitalization following her second violent incident. In a letter to Coleman dated October 1, 2014, Martinez stated that T.E. had been compliant during her sessions and with her medication and was ready and able to begin having unsupervised visits with her children with the goal of reunification. At her deposition, Martinez acknowledged the inaccuracy of representing that T.E. did not exhibit psychotic symptoms in light of what she and the group counselor had seen. During a November 7 appointment, Martinez disclosed to T.E. Coleman’s report of T.E.’s hallucinations. T.E. “became upset” and “tearful,” denied any psychotic symptoms, and reiterated her goal of regaining custody of her children. Later that day, T.E. called DCPP and spoke with Coleman. During their conversation, T.E. referenced her session with Martinez, denied that she was experiencing auditory hallucinations, and stated she did not understand why such a claim would be fabricated. Coleman advised T.E. to seek advice from an attorney as DCPP would “maintain that she [was] not capable of parenting independently due to her mental health issues.” Six days later, T.E. made an unscheduled visit to DCPP offices, where she stabbed Coleman twenty-two times in the face, chest, arms, shoulders, and back. Coleman filed a complaint against Martinez, alleging that Martinez was negligent in identifying her to T.E. as the source of information about T.E.’s hallucinations, and that T.E.’s attack was a direct and proximate result of Martinez’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Martinez, finding no legal duty owed to Coleman under the particularized foreseeability standard set forth in J.S. v. R.T.H., 155 N.J. 330 (1998). The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Martinez had a duty to Coleman under the circumstances here. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Coleman v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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M&K Construction (M&K) appealed a workers’ compensation court’s order (the Order) making it reimburse plaintiff Vincent Hager for the ongoing costs of the medical marijuana he was prescribed after sustaining a work-related injury while employed by M&K. Specifically, M&K contends that New Jersey’s Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act was preempted as applied to the Order by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Compliance with the Order, M&K claims, would subject it to potential federal criminal liability for aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy. M&K also claimed medical marijuana was not reimbursable as reasonable or necessary treatment under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). Finally, M&K argued that it fit within an exception to the Compassionate Use Act and was therefore not required to reimburse Hager for his marijuana costs. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined: (1) M&K did not fit within the Compassionate Use Act’s limited reimbursement exception; (2) Hager presented sufficient credible evidence to the compensation court to establish that the prescribed medical marijuana represents, as to him, reasonable and necessary treatment under the WCA; and (3) the Court interpretsed Congress’ appropriations actions of recent years as suspending application of the CSA to conduct that complied with the Compassionate Use Act. As applied to the Order, the Court thus found the Act was not preempted and that M&K did not face a credible threat of federal criminal aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy liability. M&K was ordered to reimburse costs for, and reasonably related to, Hager’s prescribed medical marijuana. View "Hager v. M&K Construction" on Justia Law

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In September 2016, defendant Trend Motors, Ltd. (Trend), provided defendant Mary Aquilar with a loaner vehicle for her personal use while her vehicle was being serviced. Aquilar’s negligent operation of the loaner vehicle caused it to strike plaintiff Tyrone Huggins’s car. Huggins sustained serious injuries as a result. GEICO insured Aquilar through an automobile policy. Trend held a garage policy with Federal Insurance Company (Federal) that insured Trend’s vehicles for up to $1,000,000 in liability coverage. The definition of an “insured” in the Federal policy purported to extend liability coverage to Trend’s customers using Trend’s vehicles only if the customer lacked the minimum insurance required by law. Huggins filed a complaint seeking compensation for the injuries and loss of income he suffered as a result of the accident. Federal disclaimed liability, arguing that Aquilar did not fit the policy’s definition of an insured because she held $15,000 in bodily injury coverage through GEICO. The trial court held that the Federal policy’s definition of an insured constituted an illegal escape clause and held Federal to the full policy limit of $1,000,000 in liability coverage. The Appellate Division declined to review the trial court’s ruling. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the trial court’s ruling that the provision in the garage policy at issue constituted an illegal escape clause which could not be used to evade the minimum liability requirements for dealership vehicles set by the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). The Court ordered the reformation of Federal’s policy to the $100,000/$250,000 dealer-licensure minimum liability coverage required by N.J.A.C. 13:21-15.2(l). View "Huggins v. Aquilar" on Justia Law

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Under New Jersey’s Worker’s Compensation Act, an employee injured during a social or recreational activity generally cannot receive compensation for those injuries unless a two-part exception is met. Here, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether the injuries sustained by claimant Kim Goulding at an event hosted by her employer were compensable. The workers’ compensation court dismissed Goulding’s claim, determining that "Family Fun Day" was a social or recreational event and that the two-part test of N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was not satisfied. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the injury Goulding sustained while volunteering at her employer-sponsored event was compensable because, as to Goulding, the event was not a social or recreational activity. Even if N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was applicable here, Goulding would still have satisfied the two-part exception set forth in that statute. Her role at the event, which was planned to be held annually, was the same as her role as an employee, and but for her employment at Friendship House, Goulding would not have been asked to volunteer and would not have been injured. Thus, Goulding’s injury was “a regular incident of employment.” Furthermore, the Court found Friendship House received a benefit from Family Fun Day “beyond improvement in employee health and morale.” The event was not a closed event for the Friendship House team. Rather, it was an outreach event to celebrate and benefit Friendship House’s clients, creating goodwill in the community. View "Goulding v. NJ Friendship House, Inc." on Justia Law

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Nineteen-year-old Mark Zwierzynski permitted underage adult friends to consume alcoholic beverages in his home. Nineteen-year-old Brandon Narleski and twenty-year-old Nicholas Gomes left the home severely intoxicated. Shortly afterwards, Gomes lost control of his vehicle and crashed. Narleski died at the scene. Gomes’s blood alcohol concentration was twice the legal limit. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review was whether the common law imposed a duty on underage adults -- over the age of eighteen but under twenty-one -- to refrain from making their homes a safe haven for underage guests to consume alcoholic beverages and, if so, what the standard for liability would be if an underage guest, who becomes intoxicated, afterwards drives a motor vehicle and injures or kills a third party. The Court held an underage adult defendant may be held civilly liable to a third-party drunk driving victim if the defendant facilitated the use of alcohol by making his home available as a venue for underage drinking, regardless of whether he was a leaseholder or titleholder of the property; if the guest causing the crash became visibly intoxicated in the defendant’s home; and if it was reasonably foreseeable that the visibly intoxicated guest would leave the residence to operate a motor vehicle and cause injury to another. The Appellate Division was reversed, the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Zwierzynski was vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Estate of Brandon Narleski v. Gomes" on Justia Law