On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 195 N.J. Super. 430 (1984) (A-5). On certification to the Superior Court, Law Division (A-6).
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Handler, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None.
We granted certification in these consolidated petitions in order to determine whether the statement of damages required under Rule 4:5-2 places a ceiling on the amount of damages recoverable in a civil action. Because we are satisfied that the Rule has no such binding effect, we reverse the judgment below with directions that the judgment based on the original jury verdict be reinstated.
The question arose in the context of a negligence suit occasioned by a September 1979 two-car automobile accident that occurred in a heavy rain storm during the evening rush hour on Route 287 in Morris County. Plaintiff Jane Lang was a passenger in a car being operated by defendant Thomas Carroll, which struck the rear of a vehicle stalled in the right-hand lane of traffic on the superhighway's southbound portion. The stalled vehicle, driven by defendant Barbara Baker, had been in that position for approximately forty-five minutes while cars swerved around her to the left and onto the shoulder of the
highway to the right. A jury awarded Jane Lang $450,000, and her husband, plaintiff Peter Lang, $50,000. The jury determined that the defendant drivers, Barbara Baker and Thomas Carroll, were each fifty percent at fault in causing the Langs' injuries.
The Appellate Division set aside the jury's award on the basis of a statement of damages submitted prior to trial in which the plaintiffs initially claimed a total of $175,000 in damages. The appellate panel held that this statement, required under Rule 4:5-2 to be submitted upon the request of an opposing party, was binding on the plaintiffs and set an upper limit on their recovery. It therefore remanded the matter for reduction of the judgment against defendants from $500,000 to an amount not to exceed $175,000. 195 N.J. Super. 430, 435 (App.Div.1984). The Appellate Division did, however, leave open the possibility that the plaintiffs could file a motion for relief from the Rule 4:5-2 limitation "in the manner of R. 4:9-1 and R. 4:9-2," which govern amendments to the pleadings. Id. at 435.*fn1
In giving binding effect to the Rule 4:5-2 damage statement, the Appellate Division overruled Perdomo v. Goldstein, 122 N.J. Super. 14 (Law Div.1972), heretofore the only case to have considered the issue. For eleven years, Perdomo 's holding that the Rule 4:5-2 statement had "no binding effect whatsoever," 122 N.J. Super. at 17, had been the accepted understanding. See, e.g., S. Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Comment R. 4:5-2, at 616 (1985). We see no compelling reason to change that understanding now.
The civil practice rule in question provides:
Except as may be more specifically provided by these rules in respect of specific actions, a pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, whether an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim, shall contain a statement of the facts on which the claim is based, showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled. Relief in the alternative or of several different types may be demanded. If unliquidated money damages are claimed in any court, other than the county district court, the pleading shall demand damages generally without specifying the amount. Upon service of a written request by another party, the party filing the pleading shall within 5 days after service thereof furnish the requesting party with a written statement of the amount of damages claimed, which statement shall not be filed except on court order.
[ R. 4:5-2 (emphasis added).]
Our review of the history of this Rule and its amendment adding the italicized language in 1960 convinces us that a plaintiff's compliance with a request for a specific statement does not, by itself, make the statement ...