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Bleeker v. Trickolo

Decided: December 16, 1965.


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


Lucy Bleeker was a passenger in an automobile operated by her daughter Anna Magilton when it was in collision with an automobile owned and operated by Trickolo. As a result she brought this action against Magilton and Trickolo for personal injuries; her husband Chester sued per quod.

The accident occurred in the early afternoon of February 9, 1961 on Nagle Street, Paterson, N.J. On the day before there had been a sizeable snowstorm, and the subsequent snow plowing of the street had reduced the travelled portion to one lane and had caused large banks of snow to be piled on both sides of the lane. Trickolo resided on Nagle Street two doors from Glover Avenue, an intersecting street. He had cleared the snow bank for a sufficient area to enable him to park his automobile. The car was parked in such a manner that it was necessary for him to back it into the road of travel. Immediately prior to the accident Trickolo got into his car, looked back and then front, and seeing no vehicle, started to back his car. When he had travelled about one foot he heard a horn, put on his brakes and stopped. He then found that his left rear fender had come in contact with the Magilton car as it attempted to pass. That car had turned into Nagle Street from Glover Avenue. It was readily inferable that the narrow roadway and the piles of snow (said to be three feet high) contributed to the hazards involving both automobilists.

At the conclusion of the entire case plaintiffs moved for a judgment of liability against Trickolo. The court denied the motion. The court submitted the case to the jury together with a written interrogatory annexed to forms of possible verdicts, which was as follows:

"If you find a verdict of no cause for action against both defendants then answer the following special question: What is the amount of damages you would have awarded to plaintiffs if there had been a verdict in favor of plaintiffs?"

In the course of the charge the jury was informed by the judge that he intended to submit this interrogatory for his

own "information." Trickolo's attorney objected to the submission of the interrogatory; plaintiff's attorney did not. The jury returned a general verdict of no cause of action as to both defendants, and in respect to the interrogatory stated that the damages it would have awarded were $250 for Lucy Bleeker and $150 for Chester Bleeker.

Plaintiff moved for a new trial. After argument the trial court denied the motion as to Magilton. However, acting under R.R. 4:51-2(b) the court granted plaintiffs' trial motion for a judgment of liability as to Trickolo. Having done so, the judge then entered judgments in favor of the plaintiffs respectively for $250 and $150 upon the basis of the "information" supplied by the jury in respect to the requested special finding.

Plaintiffs appeal, alleging that the interrogatory as to damages was unauthorized and that the jury's answer thereto was erroneously made the basis of the judgment entered in their favor on the post-trial proceedings. They also contend that the court erred in denying their motion for a new trial and, further, that under R.R. 4:51-2(b) a determination of that motion as to Trickolo was required, notwithstanding the fact that the court granted their motion holding him liable as a matter of law. Trickolo does not cross-appeal.

R.R. 4:50-2 is derived from, and is identical with, Rule 49(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It provides:

"General Verdict Accompanied by Answer to Interrogatories. The court may submit to the jury, together with appropriate forms for a general verdict, written interrogatories upon one or more issues of fact the decision of which is necessary to a verdict. The court shall give such explanation or instruction as may be necessary to enable the jury both to make answers to the interrogatories and to render a general verdict, and the court shall direct the jury both to make written answers and to render a general verdict. When the general verdict and the answers are harmonious, the court shall direct the entry of the appropriate judgment upon the verdict and answers. When the answers are consistent with each other but one or more is inconsistent with the general verdict, the court may direct the entry of judgment in ...

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