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Hickman v. Pace

Decided: March 4, 1964.

JEAN MARIE HICKMAN, AN INFANT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MALLORY C. PACE AND ALICE PACE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Goldmann, Kilkenny and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kilkenny, J.A.D.

Kilkenny

In this personal injury, automobile-pedestrian, negligence action, tried before a jury in the Monmouth County Court, there was a verdict in favor of defendants of no cause for action. Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial was denied. Plaintiffs appeal, contending: (1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and (2) the trial court erroneously precluded plaintiffs' attorney, in his summation, from commenting upon the failure of the defendant driver to take the witness stand in her own behalf.

The trial record shows the following uncontradicted facts. On April 7, 1961, a clear, dry day, at about 11:35 A.M., the infant plaintiff Jean Marie Hickman, six years of age, was crossing on foot from the north side to the south side of Center Avenue in Atlantic Highlands, when an automobile owned

by defendant Mallory C. Pace and operated by defendant Alice Pace, in a westerly direction along Center Avenue, struck the infant plaintiff and caused the personal injuries for which she brought suit and in which her father William Hickman joined as a coplaintiff for his damages per quod.

In presenting their proofs to establish liability, plaintiffs did not call any eyewitness to the accident. Instead, they relied solely upon the testimony of the child's mother and that of the police chief of Atlantic Highlands, both of whom arrived upon the scene after the happening. Defendant driver was in court but neither side called her as a witness. Plaintiffs had not served interrogatories upon defendants and had not taken the deposition of the defendant driver.

The police chief, who arrived about ten minutes after the accident, testified that he saw defendants' station wagon at the scene and it was then near the curb at the left-hand side of the street. He also saw the infant plaintiff lying a few feet away from that curb and about five feet to the west and in front of the station wagon, with her head facing the street. He found skid marks, 31 feet in length, leading from a point in the roadway, where the defendant operator allegedly applied her brakes, to the point where her car came to a stop. The officer described Center Avenue, at the point of the accident, as being 30 feet wide and the area as residential in character, with St. Agnes Parochial School, about 350 feet away.

The police chief interviewed the defendant operator, Alice Pace, at the scene of the accident and she admitted that she was the driver of the car which had struck the infant plaintiff. The chief testified that she told him that she had been driving westerly along Center Avenue and, although she did not know exactly how fast she was going at the time, she felt that she was within the speed limit of 25 miles per hour. She also told him that she had observed a little girl standing at the curb on the left-hand side of the street, a friend of the infant plaintiff, and proceeded with care lest that other little girl might attempt to run out into the street. When she had driven her car a few feet farther, she noticed the infant plaintiff, who

"darted out from behind a car [parked on the north side of Center Avenue facing easterly] and attempted to run across the street. She immediately applied the brakes in an attempt to avoid the accident and made a left turn into the curb." Defendant driver further told the chief that she did not observe the infant plaintiff "until she ran out from behind the car." Obviously, the car from behind which the infant plaintiff darted out into the street was parked on the wrong side of the street.

Gloria Hickman, the mother of the infant plaintiff, testified that she arrived at the scene of the accident shortly after its occurrence and saw her daughter lying on the street and close to the southerly curb. The child was removed from the scene to Riverview Hospital. Mrs. Hickman stated that, on the following day, she saw defendant, Alice Pace, at the hospital and, in the conversation with her, defendant stated that she was sorry, "but she didn't see my daughter Jean because she had her eye on a little blonde-headed girl in the opposite side of the street. * * * She said she kept her eye on Janie [the little girl on the left side of the street] because she was afraid that she was going to run into the street." Mrs. Hickman also testified to the general character of the neighborhood, that she knew the defendant driver for a number of years prior to the accident, and that she had observed her on frequent occasions operating her motor vehicle in this neighborhood.

On the basis of the above testimony, the trial judge properly submitted to the jury the question of the negligence of the defendant driver. Whether or not the defendant had exercised reasonable care under the circumstances was a matter about which fair-minded men might honestly differ. The jury's verdict in favor of the defendants represents its finding that the defendant driver was not negligent. No question was raised at the trial as to the infant plaintiff's possible ...


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