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Rawson v. Lohsen

Decided: November 16, 1976.

DANIEL L. RAWSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CLAUDIA LOHSEN, BOROUGH OF CARLSTADT, NEW JERSEY BOROUGH OF EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY, AND COUNTY OF BERGEN, NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS



Smith, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Smith

The jury's answer to a liability interrogatory posed in this unusual accident case actually frames a legal issue which must be decided to mold the judgment under our Comparative Negligence Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2(c). Evidence adduced during the trial painted this factual picture:

On January 27, 1974 Daniel Rawson was riding his motorcycle in a northerly direction on Hackensack Street. As he approached the Hoboken Road intersection, vision to the southwest was obstructed by a police booth. The traffic light behind the booth was hidden from view and did not become visible until he was almost upon it. He observed amber and green lit simultaneously but could not bring his motorcycle to a halt before entering the intersection. Claudia Lohsen's car reached the same place at that point in time. Traveling west on Hoboken Road she had been stopped for a red light. When the color turned green she proceeded forward without making any lateral observations. Neither driver saw the other until immediately before impact.

The intersection in which the collision occurred is formed by the crossing of two county roads and traversed by the boundary line between the Borough of Carlstadt and the Borough of East Rutherford. Vehicular movement is regulated by a pair of traffic light stanchions placed on diagonally opposite corners, one in each municipality. The absence of proof as to construction or control by the County of Bergen resulted in a dismissal of all claims against the County on motion. R. 4:40-1. In a helter-skelter manner, both municipalities exercised control over the traffic lights and shared maintenance costs. On the date of the accident, during a four-second interval in the cycle, the light governing traffic flowing north on Hackensack Street did in fact show amber and green at the same time. The light facing west on Hoboken Road went from green to amber to red to total darkness for four seconds.

Having found that the accident was a proximate result of the negligence of all parties, the jury apportioned the degrees of fault attributable:

Defendant Claudia Lohsen 5%

Defendant Borough of Carlstadt 25%

Defendant Borough of East Rutherford 25%

Plaintiff Daniel Rawson 45%

----

Total 100%

Thus, plaintiff was found to have been more negligent than each individual defendant but less negligent than all of the defendants combined. Damages to reasonably and fairly compensate him for personal injuries and property damages were then determined to be $9930. How much, if any, of this amount can be collected depends upon ...


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