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Pierson v. Frederickson

Decided: July 17, 1968.

ROWLAND W. PIERSON, JR., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ROBERT FREDERICKSON AND ROBERT FREDERICKSON, JR., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Conford, Collester and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Collester, J.A.D.

Collester

Defendants appeal from a judgment entered in this personal injury automobile negligence action following a jury verdict awarding plaintiff damages of $32,000. Their motion for a new trial was denied.

The accident which resulted in this action occurred at about 4:40 A.M. on January 1, 1965 when plaintiff's automobile, which was being driven in a westerly direction on Atlantic Avenue in Long Branch, collided with a motor vehicle owned by Robert Frederickson and operated by his son Robert Frederickson, Jr. The Frederickson car was being driven in a northerly direction on Liberty Street which dead-ends into Atlantic Avenue, a through street, forming a T-intersection. Immediately to the north of and beyond the T there was a private roadway which led into a housing project. Plaintiff, who was seriously injured, suffered a loss of memory and could not recall the details of the accident. His last recollection prior to the impact was crossing a small bridge 75 to 100 yards east of the intersection at a speed of 20 to 25 m.p.h.

Defendant Robert Frederickson, Jr., who was unfamiliar with the area and was being given directions by his companion, was not aware that Liberty Street did not continue across at Atlantic Avenue. He testified that his maximum speed within the two block preceding the intersection was 25 m.p.h. and when he was several car lengths from Atlantic Avenue he slowed down to about 10 m.p.h., observed no traffic on Atlantic Avenue, and then began to accelerate back to 25 m.p.h. When he was about to enter the intersection he saw the plaintiff's car and decided the chances of avoiding the collision were greater if he proceeded through rather than if he attempted to stop.

When the accident occurred three people were awake in the Edward Fister household on the southeast corner of the

intersection (this being the morning following New Year's Eve). Mr. Fister was in the bathroom on the side of his house facing Liberty Street when he heard the motor sound of the defendants' approaching vehicle. He first heard the sound when it was faint at a distance which he estimated to be a block or two away. The noise grew louder as the car came nearer; it increased without interruption, and immediately after it passed his house he heard the crash of the collision.

During a preliminary examination conducted by the court out of the presence of the jury Mr. Fister testified that he had been an electronics engineer for 30 years, had been employed in governmental research including the use of instruments to measure sound waves in order to detect the movement of vehicles and persons, and that with such experience and his familiarity with automobiles he could estimate the minimum speed as which a vehicle was traveling based on auditory perception even though he had not actually seen the car in motion. The court over defendants' objection held that he was competent to so testify. Thereafter Fister testified that the minimum speed of the Frederickson car while it was being operated on Liberty Street just before the collision occurred was 30 m.p.h.

Testimony by Marjorie Mitchell, a guest at the Fister home, that she heard the car coming up Liberty Street at a "fairly high rate of speed" and by Marjorie Fister, Edward Fister's wife, that she also heard the car approaching "at a rapid rate of speed" was stricken by the court as being speculative.

The primary issue on this appeal is whether the court erred in permitting Mr. Fister to testify as to the minimum speed of the Frederickson automobile based solely on his auditory perception of the sound of the car as it was being driven along Liberty Street.

Defendants contend (1) that evidence regarding the speed of a motor vehicle based solely on the sound of the motor should not have been admitted in the form of either lay or

expert testimony and the court erred in permitting Fister to testify, (2) that assuming such testimony may be introduced in the form of expert testimony Fister lacked the requisite qualifications of an expert, and (3) even if Fister possessed such qualifications the court erred in permitting him to testify because his name had not ...


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