On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Milmed, Morton I. Greenberg and Furman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Furman, J.A.D.
Plaintiffs appeal from a judgment of no cause for action, which was molded, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2(c), after a jury verdict that plaintiff Julius Rudy was 60% negligent in proximately causing an accident between a motor vehicle driven by him and a motor vehicle driven by defendant Thompson.
Two conflicting versions of the facts were before the jury. Plaintiff was returning from work as a weatherman at Newark Airport sometime after midnight. According to plaintiff, he slowed approaching the intersection of Park and May Avenues in Plainfield, signalled a left turn, checked his rearview mirrors for traffic behind him, saw nothing, started to make a left turn into May Avenue and was struck by defendant Thompson on the left rear fender of his vehicle when more than halfway through the turn. He had observed rotating colored lights on a motor vehicle behind him but, as he proceeded on Park Avenue, "they disappeared or faded out." Defendant Thompson was driving a police patrol car.
According to defendants, defendant Thompson had activated both the rotating warning light on the top of the patrol car and the siren as he proceeded 50 to 75 feet back of plaintiff. He observed neither the turn signal nor brake signal on plaintiff's vehicle. He moved into the lane for traffic travelling in the opposite direction in order to pass plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff pulled to the left apparently to make a turn, directly in front of him. He was unable to avoid a crash.
Without objection, the trial judge charged the jury on the duty owed by plaintiff Rudy in making a left turn, as follows:
I don't think there's any dispute that Mr. Rudy was making a left hand turn.
Now, the law imposes an additional duty upon a driver who is -- in addition to the general duty that each driver owes the other upon a highway, the law also imposes an additional duty upon a driver who is making a left hand turn.
And what is that duty? With regards to a left hand turn involving, as it does, a movement across the path of other traffic, the risk of harm is ordinarily increased beyond that which exists when a car is proceeding along a direct course. Hence, with respect to a left hand turn, a reasonable, prudent person would seek an opportune moment for the turn and would exercise an increased
amount of care in proportion to the increased danger. Accordingly, the law provides that a person seeking to do so has the duty to seek an opportune moment and to exercise a degree of care in proprotion to the increased danger involved in the turn.
It is for you to determine, therefore, whether a reasonable, prudent person charged with that duty would under the circumstances of the case here presented have made that turn when and in the manner in which the plaintiff Mr. Rudy did.
We are constrained to reverse and remand for a new trial because of error in the trial judge's charge on the duty owed by plaintiff in making a left turn. In our view, that charge was inapplicable, under either plaintiff's or defendants' version of the facts, and had a clear ...