Revised Statutes, N.J.S.A. The plaintiff here, in invoking the New Jersey Statute, charges that the death for which the recovery of damages is sought resulted from the negligent operation by the defendants of their vehicle so as to cause it to strike the automobile of plaintiff's intestate.
We are immediately relegated to the principles of the law of negligence as established and recognized by the Courts of New Jersey. Negligence is never presumed. Indeed, there is a presumption against negligence. Hence, one who, as does the plaintiff here, charges another with negligence as the cause of damage and basis for recovery, assumes the burden of proving such causal negligence by the preponderance of the evidence. A bare scintilla of evidence is insufficient to carry the issue of negligence to the jury and the jury may not find negligence or its causal relationship to damage by means of pure speculation, but must be persuaded to that conclusion by the greater weight or persuasiveness of the evidence presented to it. While it is true that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a similar presumption of freedom from contributory negligence surrounds the decedent, this Court is not concerned with any question of contributory negligence in this case, nor do the defendants urge the existence thereof as a basis for their present motion. In their brief on this motion the defendants, by way of conclusion, urge 'That the evidence offered supplies no proof of negligence on the part of the defendants that proximately caused the accident and resulting death.'
The Court conceives that its duty upon this motion is to determine, after a careful scrutiny of all of the evidence which was before the jury, whether there is any evidence which, if believed by the jury, would support its finding against the defendants. In scanning the proof for the purposes of this motion, the facts must be viewed most favorably to the plaintiff's case and all reasonably possible inferences in support of the verdict must be drawn. Cheffey v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., D.C.Pa.1948, 79 F.Supp. 252; Eckenrode v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 3 Cir., 1947, 164 F.2d 996.
I am impelled to the conclusion that there was adequate basis in the proofs for a jury finding of causal negligence on the part of the defendant truck driver.
An examination of the photograph of the decedent's car taken after it came to rest at the scene, marked P-7 in evidence and being a view from the left rear of the vehicle toward its right front, indicates physical damage so extensive and severe as to induce a reasonable inference that it resulted from the application of a sudden and extreme force which evidently sheared and crushed the body of the passenger car with the initial impact at the left rear corner. As will be noted in P-10, another photograph taken at the same time, looking from the left front toward the right rear of the passenger car, there was a complete absence of any evidence of damage to any portion of the vehicle forward of the left hand door, or along its right side. Two photographs of the truck were also taken at the scene, as it stood close to and parallel with the northerly curb of the highway, after the accident had occurred. P-8 is a view of the right front of the tractor-hood, right front fender, right front fender mirror, front bumper and radiator grille shield, and head and fog lights. P-9 is a directly frontal view of the tractor showing all four corners and the cab and right front corner portion of the tarpaulin covered rack-body of the trailer. P-8 discloses evidence in the form of dents, abrasions and distortion of attachments on the forward portion of the tractor from which it appears with reasonable probability that the right front portion of the tractor, to an extent of at least one-quarter of the width of the front of the vehicle, had been in contact with a solid object. From all of the foregoing eloquent though silent features of the evidence, I must conclude that the jury appropriately inferred that the truck driver drove against the passenger car from the latter's left rear, with terrific force. It was, of course, conceded that the passenger car was nearer to the right hand curb than was the truck at the moment of the collision and was in its (the passenger car's) right hand lane of the highway.
The truck driver testified that by means of his four outside mirrors he had a view of the highway behind him for a distance of four-tenths of a mile. He stated that although he looked to the rear by means of these facilities he saw nothing. He says that his speed at the time he made the observations was 40 miles per hour, at which rate he would be moving approximately 60 feet per second. If the decedent's automobile was within the four-tenths of a mile distance over which the truck driver admits that he had a view before he changed the direction of his vehicle, the truck driver either saw the passenger car or neglected to observe it. The jury had a right to conclude that if such was the situation, respecting the location of the passenger vehicle in relation to the truck, and if the driver of the truck looked and failed to see the passenger car, he could not have looked effectively. If the passenger car, on the other hand, was not within the four-tenths of a mile distance to the rear of the truck when the driver made his observation, the passenger car would have had to travel at incredibly high speed in order to draw abreast and partly ahead of the truck as the latter was negotiating the minimal change in direction which the truck driver stated had occurred before the collision. In such a situation, the high speed of the passenger car in relation to the stated speed of the truck would not have permitted the crushing, shearing effect of the collision as disclosed in the photographs of the passenger car.
There remains a further alternative inference for the jury to draw from the evidence in this case. If the truck were not overtaken by the passenger car, but overtook the same, then there was an obvious basis for jury inference that the truck driver was not making reasonably effective observations to the front, since he testified that he had a view ahead to an overpass approximately four-tenths of a mile in a westerly direction and saw nothing but the tail lights of a vehicle or vehicles traveling in the same direction, at some distance ahead of him.
The jury was properly instructed that if it found that the truck driver (there being no evidence respecting the conduct of the driver of the passenger car) violated a provision of the New Jersey Traffic Law, while such a violation was not in and of itself conclusive of negligence on the truck driver's part, it was a factor which the jury might consider, together with all of the other evidence in the case, in appraising the propriety of the truck driver's conduct.
Since, in my opinion, under the favorable inferences which we must draw in support of the verdict, the jury was reasonably justified in the proofs in reaching the conclusion which it returned, this Court has no right to disturb the verdict, and, therefore, the motions are denied and an order in accordance with this opinion may be presented.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.