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Curtis v. Finneran

Decided: July 22, 1980.

ERWIN LLOYD CURTIS, ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF RONALD PAUL CURTIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT A. FINNERAN, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On Certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For affirmance in part and for reversal and remandment in part -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and Pollock. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, J.

Pollock

The primary issue on this appeal is whether the judgment of the trial court sitting without a jury is supported by adequate findings of fact to uphold the conclusion that the net pecuniary loss suffered by decedent's two surviving infant sons amounted to a total of $53,394.

The decedent, Ronald Paul Curtis, was killed instantly when the car in which he was a passenger struck a guardrail on a bridge on July 19, 1973. The accident occurred when the defendant, Robert A. Finneran, the owner and operator of the automobile, fell asleep at the wheel. Decedent's father, as the administrator ad prosequendum of the estate of his son, sued Finneran pursuant to the wrongful death statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 et seq. The complaint sought reimbursement for funeral expenses and for the net pecuniary loss suffered by decedent's surviving children, Ronald, Jr. and Paul.

At the conclusion of a non jury trial, the court awarded damages of $1,894 for funeral expenses and, without providing findings of fact or reasons, set the amount of the loss suffered by Ronald, Jr. at $23,500 and the loss by Paul at $28,000, for a total of $53,394.

Thereafter the court denied plaintiff's motion for a new trial, but amended the judgment to add counsel fees to the amounts awarded to the children. In the amended judgment, the court awarded $29,375 to Ronald, Jr. and $35,000 to Paul, for a total of $66,269 including funeral expenses.

In an unreported opinion, the Appellate Division reversed the additur of the counsel fee and reinstated the original judgment of $53,394. We granted plaintiff's petition for certification. 81 N.J. 354

(1979). We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division, except for the disallowance of the counsel fee, and remand the matter for trial on damages.

I

The trial centered on the financial loss suffered by the children because of their father's death. Evaluation of that loss requires a summary of the facts of the brief and tragic life of Ronald Paul Curtis. He was born on June 25, 1951, and after graduating from high school in 1969, attended Pennsylvania State University for one month. He served in the National Guard in California for seven months and remained an active member of the Guard until his death. In September, 1970, after returning from California, he began working with the North Eastern Telephone Company as a cable splicer. He also did maintenance work in the evening for the Federal City Manufacturing Company. Curtis took a correspondence course with the International Correspondence School to improve his technical knowledge.

On October 3, 1970, he married and bought a trailer home in Pennsylvania where he and his wife lived. His wife died nine days after the birth of their son, Ronald Paul Curtis, Jr., on October 14, 1972. In March, 1973, Curtis moved to his parents' house. His mother testified that he did about four hours of work a week around their home and that he made weekly contributions of $30 to his mother-in-law who shared the care of Ronald, Jr.

In early 1973, Curtis became engaged and planned to be married in September of that year. Because of his engagement, Curtis planned on relocating and found a job in New Jersey with the Continental Telephone Company as a frameman. He visited his fiancee frequently. She conceived his ...


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