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Lehner v. Interstate Motor Lines Inc.

Decided: October 26, 1961.


Gaulkin, Kilkenny and Herbert.

Per Curiam

[70 NJSuper Page 216] Plaintiff Mitchell was the driver and plaintiff Lehner the passenger in an automobile which was struck in the rear by a truck owned by defendant Interstate Motor Lines, Inc. and driven by defendant Jordan. The jury returned a verdict in Mitchell's favor of $320 and in Lehner's favor of $270, the exact amount of their claimed medical bills. Plaintiffs moved for a new trial as to damages only. The motion was denied, and plaintiffs appeal.

The accident happened November 19, 1958. In the pretrial order, signed April 8, 1960, Mitchell said he "sustained the following injuries: Contusion to front of the chest, sprain of left shoulder joint, nervous shake up, Medical Bills: Dr. Meshberg, $225." Lehner said he "sustained the following injuries: Contusion of the left knee; sprain in muscle of neck; concussion of brain, and nervous shake up. Medical bills: Dr. Meshberg, $210."

The testimony at the trial was that Lehner had visited Dr. Meshberg for treatment 42 times from the date of the accident to June 29, 1959, for which Dr. Meshberg's bill was the $210 mentioned in the pretrial order; that he had had no medical treatment thereafter until July 19, 1960 when, because of occasional pains in his head, he returned for X-rays ($25) and 7 additional treatments ($35) which brought the claimed total of Lehner's medical bill to $270.

Mitchell, on the other hand, said he visited Dr. Meshberg 45 times from the date of the accident to July 19, 1959, for which the bill was the $225 mentioned in the pretrial order. He also sought no medical attention until June 6, 1960 when, he claimed, he had an attack of acute pain in his shoulder and his arm "froze," for which he was referred to a Dr. Wessel, who took X-rays and gave him X-ray treatments at a total cost of $65, making Mitchell's total claimed medical bills $320.

At the trial defendants denied that either plaintiff had been injured, and that they needed the over 40 treatments each which they claimed Dr. Meshberg gave them prior to the date of the pretrial order. Especially vigorous was defendants' attack on plaintiffs' testimony that they had had to return for further treatment in June and July 1960. Defendants charged that any treatment received then by plaintiffs was either wholly unnecessary or unrelated to the accident.

Plaintiffs' basic contention is that by its verdict in the exact amount of the bills the jury found that all of the claimed medical attention was necessary and that the bills were reasonable, and, therefore, since the jury allowed plaintiffs

nothing for pain and suffering, contrary to the charge of the court, the verdict was plainly the result of "mistake, passion, prejudice or partiality" and "clearly inadequate as a matter of law," and should have been set aside, and a new trial should have been ordered as to damages only. Plaintiffs cite Justice v. Weise , 14 N.J. Super. 9 (App. Div. 1951) and the Annotation in 20 A.L.R. 2 d 276.

Defendants, on the other hand, strenuously deny that the jury intended by its verdict to approve the necessity and the reasonableness of all of the claimed medical bills. Defendants do not contend that the jury gave each plaintiff his necessary medical expenses plus an amount for his pain and suffering, the total of which by coincidence just happened to be the precise amount that plaintiff claimed for the medical bills alone. What defendants do say, to quote from their briefs, is that the jury awarded "the entire sum" of the claimed medical expenses because it found "that the bills themselves were higher than was warranted by the injuries sustained and the pain and suffering endured, and therefore an award in that amount was more than justified."

The trial judge agreed that this was the manner in which the jury arrived at the figures contained in the verdict. He commented disparagingly upon the testimony of the plaintiffs and their doctor and upon their manner of testifying and concluded:

"As far as the doctor's treatment is concerned I feel that the jury properly arrived at the conclusion that mostly all of this treatment was totally unnecessary. I think further that the jury felt that there was some doubt even as to the veracity of the doctor's testimony in view of the fact that he was an examining physician for their insurance company.

Under the circumstances, in their appraisal of the whole situation I think the jury very clearly resolved the fact that the liability was on the part of the defendant, but that from the standpoint of injury that if any ...

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