New Jersey Supreme Court reverses $2.7 million judgment based on numerous trial errors

Kathleen J. Devlin spoke at the New Jersey State Bar Association’s 2016 Annual Convention
June 6, 2016
KLRW Shareholders Appointed to Serve on New Jersey State Bar Association Committees
June 22, 2016

On June 1, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an opinion in Torres v. Pabon and Suburban Disposal, Inc., overturning a $2.7 million judgment in a suit alleging the negligent operation of a commercial motor vehicle. James P. Lisovicz and Timothy P. Smith were asked to handle the appeal following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Mr. Smith argued the appeal in the Supreme Court.

The case arose out of a motor-vehicle accident in a highway a construction zone. Defendant Pabon was driving a Suburban Disposal garbage truck when plaintiff overtook the truck and drove into its rear with such force that her car partially underrode the truck. A jury trial resulted in a judgment of $2.7 million in plaintiff’s favor. Defendants appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certification to review that judgment.

The Supreme Court ruled that several errors individually and cumulatively prejudiced the trial against defendants, depriving them of their right to a fair trial. Those errors included improper adverse-inference charges regarding a fact witness and an expert witness, the impermissible use of late requests for admissions regarding an expert witness’s opinions, improper jury instructions on the key issue of liability, and the failure to issue a limiting jury instruction regarding plaintiff’s testimony about inadmissible medical bills. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the judgment below and remanded for a new trial.