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Coll v. Sherry

Decided: February 16, 1959.


On certification granted.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs, Francis and Proctor. For affirmance -- Justice Heher. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J.


A verdict of $1,500 was returned in favor of the plaintiff, Silas Coll, in this personal injury and property damage suit arising out of an automobile collision. The trial judge denied his motion for a new trial and he thereupon appealed to the Appellate Division, alleging that the damages awarded were inadequate and that several trial errors had adversely affected the amount of his recovery. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment, and we granted plaintiff's petition for certification.

The accident occurred at about 3:00 P.M. on January 15, 1955. Plaintiff, the proprietor of a retail chicken and egg business, was engaged in making deliveries to the various customers on that day's route. He was driving a sedan delivery truck loaded with crates of eggs. Defendant, Arthur Sherry, was operating his motor vehicle immediately behind the plaintiff's.

Sherry testified that he and Coll had stopped for a red light at the entrance to the Lincoln Avenue Bridge, which spans the Passaic River in Paterson. It was either snowing at the time or had recently been snowing. The roadway was wet and had some snow on it.

After the stop light had changed to green, both drivers started across the bridge. They had gone about half way when Sherry momentarily glanced at the river to see whether there were any ducks on it. Upon returning his eyes to the road, he saw Coll's truck standing motionless in front of him. Sherry applied his brakes and tried to turn out to the left, but his vehicle skidded and struck the rear of plaintiff's truck with a moderately severe impact. Sherry stated he had been proceeding at approximately 10 to 15 miles per hour when he looked at the river and that plaintiff's truck was then about 20 feet in front of him.

Coll testified that he had stopped because of traffic congestion and that the force of the collision had pushed his truck forward into the rear of the car in front of him. He stated the driver of that automobile had alighted and ascertained that there was no serious damage to his car, whereupon

he drove away without giving any identification. The rear door and bumper of Coll's truck were dented, and he testified that the front bumper, a front fender and his grill were also damaged.

With respect to personal injuries, plaintiff asserted the force of the two collisions had snapped his neck back and forth and thrown him against the lefthand truck door, which had sprung open, causing him to fall to the roadway. Defendant disputed this and said that after the impact Coll had climbed out of his truck.

Plaintiff did not obtain medical care until two days after the accident. His original complaints were of stiffness in the back of the neck and pain in the left shoulder. Some months thereafter, he also complained of diminished sensation in the little finger and adjacent lower half of the fourth finger on his left hand. As of the time of trial, two years and ten months later, his persisting symptoms were described as numbness of the little and fourth fingers of the left hand; neck pains upon extremes of motion; pains in the left shoulder when that arm was raised; and headaches at the back of the neck attendant upon heavy lifting. In the interim, for approximately six months, plaintiff had worn a leather collar, during his leisure moments, to support his neck. He did not lose any time from work as a result of the accident, and he said his condition had improved considerably.

Plaintiff presented four medical experts, and defendant produced two. The orthopedic evaluation of Coll's shoulder injury was calcific bursitis of the supraspinatus tendon, permanent in nature and traumatic in origin. Coll's orthopedist stated that this condition, apparent from X-rays, was causally related to the blow plaintiff's shoulder had sustained in the accident and that it was due to metabolic changes occasioned thereby. One of defendant's physicians diagnosed the shoulder injury as a myositic nodule, described as either hardened scar tissue or an ...

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