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Russell v. Salem Transportation Co.

Decided: October 24, 1972.

MARY RUSSELL, ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF LAWRENCE H. RUSSELL, JR., DECEASED, AND MARY RUSSELL, GENERAL ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF LAWRENCE H. RUSSELL, JR., DECEASED, MARY RUSSELL, INDIVIDUALLY, CARMELLA MCAVOY, GERALD MCAVOY, DONALD RUSSELL, DOROTHY RUSSELL, AND SUSANNA RUSSELL, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SALEM TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, INC., SALEM TRANSPORTATION COMPANY OF NEW JERSEY, INC., AND ROBERT STANLEY, JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND/OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, Justices Jacobs, Proctor, Hall and Mountain, and Judges Conford and Sullivan. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Conford, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned.

Conford

We are asked to decide, for the first time in New Jersey's common-law jurisprudence, that one who negligently injures a parent of minor children is liable to such children for damages for their deprivation of the "aid, comfort, companionship, loss of services and earnings" of the parent attributable to the injuries. The Law Division and on appeal the Appellate Division disallowed such a cause of action. We granted certification. 60 N.J. 354 (1972). Upon thorough consideration of the substantial policy questions implicated, we affirm the action of the lower tribunals.

Lawrence Russell, Jr., owner of one of the motor vehicles involved in a two-car collision, was a passenger therein along with his wife, Mary Russell, and another woman, the car being driven by an emancipated son of the Russells. Lawrence was killed and Mary severely injured as a result of the accident. An action was brought against defendants, owner and driver of the other car, encompassing a count for wrongful death of Lawrence, other counts for personal injuries on behalf of all the passengers in the Russell car, and the count here in question -- by the three minor children of the Russells for the deprivations mentioned above, past and future, allegedly due to the impaired condition of their mother, Mary Russell, resulting from the accident.

Of the ten or eleven American jurisdictions whose courts have heard pleas for the declaration of the existence of one form or another of the basic cause of action contended for here, all have responded in the negative.*fn1 See the cases cited

in Annot., 59 A.L.R. 2d 454 (1958) and also Pleasant v. Washington Sand & Gravel Co., 104 U.S. App. D.C. 374, 262 F.2d 471 (1958); Hoffman v. Dautel, 189 Kan. 165, 368 P. 2d 57 (Sup. Ct. 1962); Hayrynen v. White Pine Copper Company, 9 Mich. App. 452, 157 N.W. 2d 502 (Ct. App. 1968); Turner v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co., 159 F. Supp. 590 (N.D. Ga. 1958); Erhardt v. Havens, Inc., 53 Wash. 2d 103, 330 P. 2d 1010 (Sup. Ct. 1958); General Electric Company v. Bush, Nev., 498 P. 2d 366, 371 (Sup. Ct. 1972).

It has been said that persuasive grounds exist, as a matter of logic and natural justice, for recognition of a cause of action on behalf of minors disadvantaged by the negligent impairment of the capacities of a parent. See Prosser, Torts, ยง 125, p. 896 (4 ed. 1971), and writings in legal periodicals there cited; Hoffman v. Dautel, supra, 368 P. 2d at 59; Hill v. Sibley Memorial Hospital, 108 F. Supp. 739, 741 (D.C. 1952).*fn2 The only previous allusion by this court to the issue was the following expression in Ekalo v. Constructive Serv. Corp. of America, 46 N.J. 82, 92 (1965), the decision recognizing a wife's claim for loss of consortium of an injured husband.

"The defendants refer to the fear that recognition of the wife's claim may necessitate the allowance of recovery to other members of the family and inordinately expand a defendant's liability for losses resulting from his negligence (Larocca, supra, 23 N.J. Super., at p. 199). See Neuberg v. Bobowicz, 401 Pa. 146, 162 A.2d 662, 666 (1960). The law has always been most solicitous of the husband and wife relationship, perhaps more so than the parent and child relationship. See Magierowski v. Buckley, 39 N.J. Super. 534, 541 (App. Div. 1956). In any event, policy rather than logic is the determinative factor and, while persuasive arguments may be

mustered in favor of the child's claim (Prosser, supra, at p. 919), the reciprocal recognition of the wife's claim may readily be rested on its own footing of equality and justice without any compulsion of going further. See Pleasant v. Washington Sand & Gravel Co., 104 U.S. App. D.C. 374, 262 F.2d 471 (1958)."

In the case last cited in the foregoing excerpt (and also cited hereinabove) the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that notwithstanding the court had previously upheld a wife's right to recover for loss of consortium caused by negligent injury of the husband, on grounds of the reciprocally equal status of spouses in the marriage relation, no comparable justification existed for creating a right on the part of a child "for loss of personal care, affection and companionship" against third persons when the parent himself was under no legal obligation to the child to provide those amenities. (262 F.2d at 473).

As we said in Ekalo, supra, logic (and even abstract justice) must defer to overall policy in the appraisal of the justification for judicial changes in the common law. Several considerations of policy, taken cumulatively, conduce to the considered conclusion that we should not at this time create the postulated cause of action.

If the claim were allowed there would be a substantial accretion of liability against the tortfeasor arising out of a single transaction (typically the negligent operation of an automobile). Whereas the assertion of a spouse's demand for loss of consortium involves the joining of only a single companion claim in the action with that of the injured person, the right here debated would entail adding as many companion claims as the injured parent had minor children, each such claim entitled to separate appraisal and award. The defendant's burden would be further enlarged if the claims were founded upon injuries to both parents. Magnification of damage awards to a single family derived from a ...


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