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TRAIL v. GREEN

June 28, 1962

J. D. TRAIL, Plaintiff,
v.
Marmaduke K. GREEN, M. & M. Transportation Co., and Middlesex General Hospital, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LANE

Plaintiff, J. D. Trail, on the basis of diversity, has brought a negligence suit against defendants, Marmaduke K. Green, M. & M. Transportation Co., and Middlesex General Hospital. Green and M. & M. Transportation Co. have filed answers. But Middlesex General Hospital, a non-profit corporation of the State of New Jersey organized exclusively for charitable and hospital purposes, in a motion for dismissal, raises the issue of lack of jurisdiction, -- contending that the matter in controversy between it and plaintiff does not exceed the sum of $ 10,000, exclusive of interest and costs.

On March 9, 1960, plaintiff was a passenger in a truck proceeding upon a New Jersey highway in the vicinity of New Brunswick. A truck owned by M. & M. Transportation Company, and driven by its employee, Marmaduke K. Green, collided with the vehicle in which plaintiff was riding. The injured plaintiff was immediately taken to Middlesex General Hospital. It is asserted that the treatment plaintiff received at the hospital caused further injury, since, allegedly, the hospital had negligently selected an incompetent employee to administer treatment, who, in fact, performed his duties in a negligent manner.

 Defendant hospital, in its motion for dismissal, relies upon the provisions of New Jersey Statute 2A:53A-8:

 'Liability to beneficiary suffering damages not exceeding $ 10,000. Notwithstanding the provisions of the foregoing paragraph, a nonprofit corporation, society, or association organized exclusively for hospital purposes shall be liable to respond in damages to such beneficiary who shall suffer damage from the negligence of such corporation, society or association or of its agents or servants to an amount not exceeding $ 10,000.00, together with interest and costs of suit, as the result of any 1 accident and to the extent to which such damage, together with interest and costs of suit, shall exceed the sum of $ 10,000.00 such nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for hospital purposes shall not be liable therefor.'

 United States district courts have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $ 10,000. See 28 U.S.C.A. 1332(a).

 Defendant argues that by virtue of the New Jersey charitable immunity statute, supra, the matter in controversy cannot be considered to exceed the sum or value of $ 10,000. In answer thereto, plaintiff contends that this court has jurisdiction even though the amount recoverable against the hospital will fall below the jurisdictional amount, for the reason the 'amount in controversy is determined by the amount claimed in good faith for the damages suffered, and not by the amount which plaintiff may receive after a successful defense.' Concededly, there is no reported case exactly on point.

 Where personal injury is in federal court by reason of diversity the federal court does not pronounce the law governing the rights and obligations of the parties, since both are dependent on local law. Burns v. Yanos, 232 F.2d 929 (3d Cir. 1956). In Henderson v. National Fidelity Life Insurance Co., 257 F.2d 917, 919 (10th Cir. 1958), Judge Murrah states, 'The measure of damages * * * is undoubtedly substantive law, as to which state law is controlling.' The New Jersey statute limiting the liability to a beneficiary suffering damages to $ 10,000 from the negligence of a nonprofit corporation is clearly a matter of substantive law, hence, applicable.

 Defendant contends that the instant case presents a fact pattern wherein the liability of M. & M. Transportation Company and Middlesex General Hospital are not joint but several. As Professor Moore states:

 'Where two or more defendants are joined by the same plaintiff in one suit, the pecuniary test of jurisdiction ordinarily turns on whether the defendants' liability to plaintiff is joint or several. If their liability to plaintiff is joint or integrated, the value of the matters in controversy between them and the plaintiff is the jurisdictional sum' * * *' 1 Moore's Federal Practice, P0.97(3), p. 886 (2d Ed. 1960).

 'If liability is several, ordinarily the suit can be sustained only as against those whose respective controversies individually involve matters exceeding the jurisdictional amount.' Id. at p. 888.

 If, in the case at bar, the jury finds the transportation company liable for the injuries plaintiff received at the collision the company may also be liable for any additional damages inflicted by a physician's negligent treatment. This result would occur if a physician's negligent treatment were a foreseeable intervening cause of plaintiff's ultimate injury. See Prosser on Torts, 45, p. 230 (2d Ed. 1955); cf. Menthe v. Breeze Corporation, Inc., 4 N.J. 428, 73 A.2d 183, 18 A.L.R.2d 1071 (1950). *fn1" The jury must, however, deny recovery against the hospital in all events for the injury suffered by plaintiff because of the collision. See Prosser, Ibid.

 It would appear that we are not confronted here with a single indivisible result incapable of practical division, but with results that are capable of apportionment. A jury is justified in imposing entire liability on one of two defendants only where there is no reasonable alternative. Id. at p. 225. A logical basis may be found in the instant case for distributing damages among the different defendants, if, in fact, liability is placed on all of them. In that event, M. & M. Transportation Company would be liable only for such portion of the total damage as may be properly attributed to the injury resulting from the accident caused by the servant truckdriver's negligence, if any; the hospital would be liable only for such portion of the total damage as may be properly attributed to the injury caused by the representatives of Middlesex General Hospital or the hospital's negligence, if any. This distinction might be difficult; yet it might prove to be the equitable solution if all defendants are held negligent. To quote Dean Prosser:

 'The difficulty of proof in assessing such separate damages has received frequent mention in all these cases, but it is not regarded as sufficient justification for entire liability. The emphasis is placed upon the logical possibility of apportionment, and the separate invasion of the plaintiff's interests which may be traced to each cause. The difficulty may have been overstated. The courts necessarily have been very liberal in awarding damages where the uncertainty as to their extent results from the nature of the wrong itself. The requirements of proof usually have been somewhat relaxed in such cases, and it has been said that no very exact evidence will be required, and that general evidence as to the proportion in which the causes contributed to the result will be sufficient to support a verdict.' Id. at p. 229.

 In its essence, the present case on its face lacks the principles of a joint tort, that is, two individuals acting in concert to commit a tort, or two independent acts coalescing to form one indivisible joint result. Rather, it would seem that plaintiff has joined two defendants so a convenient trial can occur, and with the expectation of two judgments accruing. If the liability of the hospital is several, the claim against it cannot be aggregated with the claim against the trucking company to meet the ...


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