$2.7 MILLION AUTO ACCIDENT AWARD NIXED BY NJ SUPREME COURT

much-garbage-truck-weigh_17dc33699c400aabSo you have been injured in a car accident – now what?  Many individuals who suffer serious and/or permanent injuries stemming from a head on collision, t-bone, rear-end hit, etc. may hire an attorney to file a lawsuit on their behalf.  What many people do not know about these matters is how long it takes for justice to be served.  Personal injury cases provide recourse to these injured individuals in the form of a monetary sum.  This money is meant to make the injured person whole again despite the injuries suffered.  In some instances it may take four (4) to five (5) years from the date of the accident for the injured person to receive any sum of money through settlement or trial. The last thing an injured individual would want to happen is wait all this time only to have the amount rewarded be tied up in the court system.

In Torres v. Pabon, the plaintiff, Torres, hit a garbage truck from behind.  Torres alleged that she could not see the rear lights of the truck because they were covered with dirt and mud.  The defendant argued that the upper lights of the truck were visible and that Torres was at fault.

The impact fractured Torres’ right knee cap, tibia, fibula, ankle and foot and her left femur and damaged the radial ulnar nerve in her right arm and hand.  She spent six (6) days in a coma and suffered mild traumatic brain injury.

Torres was hospitalized for three (3) weeks and had an exploratory abdominal procedure followed by one to repair her ruptured spleen.  She required physical therapy and walks with a cane because her femur did not heal properly.

The jury found the defendants to be 55 % at fault and Torres 45% at fault.  The jury awarded her $4.5 million and due to the split in liability the verdict was $2,735,455.  An appeal was filed and the appellate division affirmed the award.

The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the $2.7 million damage award.  The Court stated the errors – which included mistaken jury instructions by the Judge – deprived the defendants of a fair trial. The court stated that the trial court committed a series of errors during the trial and because of the errors the defendants were not afforded a fair trial on either liability or damages.

There were several instances where the trial court improperly permitted an adverse inference due to the failure of an individual to testify. For example, when the trial began there were still unresolved evidentiary disputes regarding a report issued by a defense medical expert. Due to the unresolved issues, the defense chose to not call the doctor as a witness. The trial court gave an adverse inference charge telling the jury it could draw an adverse inference from the defense choosing not to call the doctor as a witness. The trial court also permitted Torres to testify about how she was suffering financially because of her medical bills, even though she had been provided with personal-injury-protection benefits. The trial court Judge should have struck the testimony and ordered the jury to disregard it.

The mistakes made during this trial cost the plaintiff a $2.7 million verdict. Could this amount have changed if those mistakes were not made – possibly. The bottom line is that a plaintiff involved in August 2007 car accident still has not been made whole. This case is over nine (9) years old and shows the importance of having litigators who know how to properly handle a personal injury matter. The attorneys at Gale & Laughlin have been assisting personal injury clients with settlements and trials for over 100 years.  Contact us with any questions you may have.

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