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Parentini v. S. Klein Department Stores Inc.

Decided: April 11, 1967.

ANN PARENTINI, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
S. KLEIN DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Gaulkin, Lewis and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.

Lewis

Plaintiff in an action for false imprisonment obtained a jury verdict for compensatory damages and judgment thereon was entered in the amount of $16,000. Defendant appeals from the judgment and from a denial of its motion for a new trial.

We cannot say from our study of the record that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence or that the trial court erroneously denied the motion for a new trial.

We find no reversible trial errors. In particular, we note that defendant was not entitled to a judgment as a matter of law; N.J.S. 2A:170-100 was explained and the

issues of probable cause, apprehension and detention were fairly presented to the jury. Since the jury disallowed punitive damages defendant was not prejudiced by the presentation of that claim.

Defendant did not object to the court's charge with respect to aggravation of a prior blood pressure condition. See R.R. 4:52-1; Aiello v. Myzie, 88 N.J. Super. 187, 193 (App. Div. 1965), certification denied 45 N.J. 594 (1965).

While the amount of the verdict appears to be on the high side, it is not so excessive as to call for judicial intervention. Absent the "inescapable conclusion of mistake, passion, prejudice, or partiality," we cannot invade the constitutional office of the jury. Wytupeck v. City of Camden, 25 N.J. 450, 466 (1957); Massotto v. Public Serv. Coordinated Transp., 71 N.J. Super. 39, 54 (App. Div. 1961).

Plaintiff produced two medical experts who testified as to the causal relationship of the episode to her psychiatric condition and the permanent nature thereof. Dr. David Flicker, a neurologist, examined plaintiff on behalf of defendant, but the doctor was not called as a witness; no medical testimony was proffered for the defense. The trial court charged the jury it had the right "to infer that Dr. Flicker was not called as a witness by the defendant because if he was called, his testimony would have been unfavorable to the defendant." The giving of any charge relating to Dr. Flicker's nonproduction was objected to before the charge was delivered. We think the circumstances permitted a charge on the subject, but not the one that was given. However, the language used was not objected to at any time. Therefore, the question is whether the instructions constituted plain error. R.R. 1:5-3(c); 2:5.

The charge that was given was objectionable because it permitted the jury to infer (1) defendant deliberately concealed or suppressed Dr. Flicker"s testimony and (2) if called, Dr. Flicker would have testified affirmatively in favor of plaintiff -- "unfavorable to the defendant." There is nothing in the record that would justify an inference that

defendant deliberately concealed or suppressed the doctor's testimony; parties often do not call doctors whose evidence would not be helpful enough to warrant the expense and intrusion upon their professional time. As to the inference that if the doctor had been called he would have testified affirmatively in favor of plaintiff, the most that could have been inferred by reason of his nonproduction was that, if he had been produced, his testimony would not have aided defendant.

As our Supreme Court said in State v. Callahan, 76 N.J.L. 426, 428 (Sup. Ct. 1908), affirmed 77 N.J.L. 685 (E. & A. 1909), the nonproduction of a witness "will not justify an arbitrary presumption of suppression of evidence." See also Merrill v. St. Paul City Ry Co., 170 Minn. 332, 212 N.W. 533, 534 (Sup. Ct. 1927); Davis v. Franson, 141 Cal. App. 2 d 263, 296 P. 2 d 600, 605 (D. Ct. App. 1956); Knotts v. Valocchi, 2 Ohio App. 2 d 188, 207 N.E. 2 d 379, 382 (Ct. App. 1963). "The only inference that may be drawn from failure to produce available witnesses * * * is that * * * the evidence would not have been favorable to the party omitting to produce such witnesses." 20 Am. Jur., Evidence, § 187, p. 192; and see Id., § 193, p. 195; 29 Am. Jur. 2 d, ...


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