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Lutz v. Westwood Transportation Co.

Decided: June 28, 1954.


Eastwood, Freund and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.A.D.


[31 NJSuper Page 287] This is a negligence action arising out of a collision between two passenger busses, one owned by the Public Service Coordinated Transport and driven by John Remhoff, and the other owned by Westwood Transportation Company and driven by Paul Wheeler. The appellant Emily Lutz, a passenger in the Public Service bus at the time, claimed injuries and brought the suit; her husband, John Lutz, joined to recover his consequential losses. At the close of the appellants' case the trial court granted a motion for judgment in favor of Public Service and Remhoff. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Westwood

Transportation Company and Wheeler. The legal propriety of the exoneration of the alleged tortfeasors is challenged on this appeal.

The record discloses that the Public Service bus in which Mrs. Lutz was a passenger had pulled in toward the curb to take on passengers. The driver said he stopped about six inches from the curb; Mrs. Lutz fixed the distance at about two feet. A number of passengers boarded and as the last one was on the steps in the act of entering, the bus was struck at the right rear corner by the front of the Westwood bus which was proceeding in the same direction. It is undisputed that the Public Service vehicle was at a standstill at the time of impact.

The day was clear and there were no obstructions to vision on the roadway. According to Wheeler, Westwood's driver, he observed the Public Service bus at a standstill when he was about 450 to 500 feet away. He intended to pass and was riding in the passing lane at about 30 miles per hour. At a distance of about a block away some intending passengers for his bus came into his view at the rear of the Public Service vehicle and they signalled to him. He put his foot on the brake and pulled over into the right-hand lane with the purpose of stopping in back of the other bus. While approaching he slowed down but when about 15 feet away he noticed that his brakes were not holding, although he had experienced no previous trouble with them. He attempted to swing to the left but was unsuccessful in avoiding the collision.

At the trial medical evidence was offered to show that, among other things, Mrs. Lutz was suffering from coccydnia and a post-concussion syndrome which manifested itself by headaches, dizziness, eye symptoms, sensitivity to noises and easy fatigability.

The major ground for reversal of the Westwood Company judgment is an asserted error in the trial court's charge to the jury. The particular portion which we feel requires discussion has to do with the instruction given with respect to

the extent of a tortfeasor's responsibility for the consequences of his negligence. The court said:

"In negligence cases it is necessary for these plaintiffs, in order to recover, to prove that the defendants committed an act or omitted to do an act which a person of ordinary prudence could foresee might naturally and probably produce the injury and the damage complained of , and that such an act or omission did actually cause the injury."

The effect of this charge was to instruct the jury that liability on the part of the respondents would not exist unless they, as persons of ordinary prudence, could have foreseen that the particular injury and damage Mrs. Lutz suffered might naturally and probably result from their negligence. Such a statement unduly restricts the scope of a wrongdoer's responsibility. The obligation to respond in damages for negligent acts is not limited to those injuries and damages or consequences which might reasonably have been anticipated. In recent years New Jersey has adopted the rule which eliminates the need for demonstrating that the particular consequences of a negligent act must be foreseen. At present the tortfeasor is generally answerable for an injury that results from his wrongful act in the ordinary course of events. So long as his negligent act is a substantial factor in bringing about the injury complained of, liability may be found. Mitchell v. Friedman , 11 N.J. Super. 344, 348 (App. Div. 1951); Mulquinn v. Lock Joint Pipe Co. , 13 N.J. Super. 467 (App. Div. 1951).

The situation presented in the Mitchell case, supra , was an unusual one. The plaintiff was a tenant in defendant's apartment house. As the result of a fire in the building, the water pressure became insufficient to flush the toilet automatically. Plaintiff was compelled to draw water in pails and carry it to the toilet to accomplish the flushing. This was still the condition 12 days after ...

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