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Latta v. Caulfield

Decided: February 7, 1979.

MARTHA LATTA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES T. CAULFIELD, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 158 N.J. Super. 151 (1978).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber and Handler. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pashman, J.

Pashman

We are called upon in this case to decide whether certain jury instructions regarding contributory negligence and proximate cause were so inaccurate and misleading as to require reversal of the verdict returned below. Upon careful scrutiny of the record, we conclude that the trial court's charge failed to adequately convey the pertinent legal principles and that this error could have led the jury to a result it might otherwise not have reached. We therefore affirm the result reached by the Appellate Division and hold that a new trial is required. In so doing we do not endorse its reasoning.

Martha Latta, the plaintiff herein, resided at 303 East Fifth Street, Plainfield, near the intersection of East Fifth and Roosevelt Streets. On the evening of April 29, 1972, while sitting on her front porch, she attempted to quell an argument involving 20 to 25 youths. When her efforts proved unsuccessful, she went into her house to call the police. Before she reached the telephone, however, her granddaughter notified her that a police car had already arrived on the scene. Mrs. Latta came back out of the house, saw that a police car was parked directly across the street, and started towards it in order to request the officer's assistance in stopping the disturbance. She had reached a point somewhere between the street's center line and the police car when she was struck by Mr. Caulfield's oncoming vehicle.

On November 11, 1974 plaintiff filed this negligence suit to recover for the injuries sustained as a result of that collision. A jury trial was held, limited solely to the issue of liability. Divergent testimony was presented relating to the exact circumstances of the accident.

Plaintiff testified that she looked both ways before crossing the street and saw no cars coming toward her. She began walking across the street and

A. [t]hen just as I got halfway in the street or across the white line . . . I made but three more steps, and then I saw this car

and I throw up my hands, I thought maybe he was going to let me pass.

Q. Did he let you pass?

A. No, he didn't.

Q. What happened?

A. He hit ...


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