On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Michels, Pressler and Trautwein. Michels, P.J.A.D.
[189 NJSuper Page 168] Plaintiffs Joyce Goldstone, a minor, by her guardian ad litem Barbara S. Goldstone, and Barbara S. Goldstone individually appeal from a judgment of the Law Division entered in favor of defendant David E. Tuers on a jury verdict that defendant was not negligent in injuring Joyce Goldstone and from an order of the trial court that denied their motion for a new trial. Plaintiffs
instituted this action to recover damages for the personal injuries sustained when the infant plaintiff was allegedly struck by an automobile operated by defendant.
We are entirely satisfied from our study of the record and the arguments presented that the evidence in support of the jury verdict is not insufficient; that the denial of the motion for a new trial by the trial judge did not represent a manifest denial of justice, and that, with a single exception discussed below, all of the issues of law raised are clearly without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(B), (C) and (E).
Plaintiffs claim that the trial judge committed reversible error by failing to charge an important principle of law that they had requested. Plaintiffs requested that the judge instruct the jury as follows:
Joyce Goldstone had a right to presume that defendant would operate his vehicle with due regard for her safety. Joyce Goldstone was not required to anticipate that defendant would not conform to a standard of reasonable care.
It is a firmly settled principle of law that a person has the right to assume that the driver of an automobile will exercise reasonable care and observe the standard of conduct required of him in the use of the highway. See, e.g., Van Rensselaer v. Viorst, 136 N.J.L. 628, 631 (E. & A. 1948); Newham v. Nazzara, 107 N.J.L. 208, 210 (Sup.Ct.1930). This principle has found acceptance in the model charges suggested for use by trial judges in automobile negligence cases. See New Jersey Bar Association, Model Jury Charges, § 5.18(A) at 221 (1981). Here, the trial judge instructed the jury as to the appropriate duty of care, tracking the language of the model charge. However, she omitted to charge the principle stated above. She admitted afterward that she had inadvertently skipped over the principle requested but refused to amend the charge, saying that to do so after the charge had been completed "would give undue emphasis to that portion of the trial." Therefore, although defendant's and the infant plaintiff's duties of care were adequately
and clearly covered by the jury charge, the above requested principle was not charged to the jury in any manner.
The issue of whether a trial judge must give the charge requested by a party is discussed in State v. Green, 86 N.J. 281 (1981), as follows:
Requests for jury instructions may be classified into three levels of importance: (1) those concerning essential and fundamental issues; (2) those concerning substantially material matters; and (3) all other relevant and material subjects.
The court should instruct the jury with respect to requests involving essential and fundamental issues and those dealing with substantially material points. See Wild v. Roman, 91 N.J. Super. 410, 413-414 (App.Div.1966). Requests for instructions regarding such matters ...