Following the jury verdict in this matter, defendants (hereinafter referred to as "Ford") moved in the alternative for judgment n.o.v. , new trial or remittitur , limited to that part of the verdict which awards $8,000 to plaintiff for "mental anguish."
At the close of plaintiff's case I denied defendant's motion for dismissal of the claim. On the question of liability the jury had to determine whether such "mental anguish" was proximately caused and reasonably to be foreseen arising out of actions or failure to act of Ford regional personnel in dealing with plaintiff's complaint of continued uncorrected malfunctions of his defective Pantera sports car.
Ford's motions test whether, absent wanton or malicious conduct, an automobile manufacturer can be held liable for tortiously inflicting mental anguish through such action or inaction in any circumstance, and if so, whether the evidence in this case supports the jury finding, either as to causation or extent of damages.
Plaintiff initially sought recovery from Ford on counts of negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty and fraud under N.J.S.A. 56:8-19, and for punitive damages arising out of wanton and willful conduct. He dropped a request for rescission prior to trial, and his claim against the dealer was settled prior to selection of the jury. Following plaintiff's case certain motions for involuntary dismissal were granted, leaving in the case only the question of liability for repair and replacement costs, and the mental anguish issue. Ford does not here question the jury's award of $4,000 for repair and replacement costs.
The respective standards governing motions for judgment, new trial and remittitur under R. 4:40-2(b) and R. 4:49 have been reviewed most recently in Baxter v. Fairmount Food Co. , 74 N.J. 588 (1977), and earlier in Taweel v. Starn's Shoprite , 58 N.J. 227 (1971), and Dolson v. Anastasia , 55 N.J. 2 (1969). In the case of defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v. the motion must be denied if, accepting as true all of the evidence supporting plaintiff's position, and affording to plaintiff the benefit of all inferences which can reasonably and legitimately be made therefrom, reasonable minds could differ.
As to the new trial motion, a process of weighing is involved which requires a canvassing of the record, not only respecting the proofs, but with a view towards elements such as the demeanor of witnesses and "the feel of the case," sufficient to convince the court that there is a miscarriage of justice under the law.
With respect to the request for a remittitur , trial judges are cautioned not to interfere with the quantum of damages assessed by a jury unless it is so clearly disproportionate to the injury as to shock one's conscience and to convince the judge that to sustain the award would be manifestly unjust. Baxter v. Fairmount Foods, supra. There must be a pervading sense of wrongness, including factors such as manifest lack of inherently credible evidence to support the finding, obvious overlooking or undervaluation of crucial evidence, or a clearly unjust result.
Having in mind the foregoing standards, a brief review of the proofs is warranted.
Plaintiff was a personable young man, who convincingly recounted an unrebutted sequence of automotive horrors which commenced when he bought an expensive new sports car on the occasion of his birthday. The Pantera, imported from Italy, is a Ford product.
Lemaldi testified that on the very first day he drove the car, it pulled to the right. This ...